Archive for the ‘letterpress’ Category

The Cookie Crumbles

May 18, 2017

cookies-1383283_1920A friend on another floor of our building says he can tell when Shop Boy’s working alone at night at Typecast Press. It’s not the sound of the paper cutter, because Mary uses that too. There IS the familiar ring of the Heidelberg Windmill doing its thing … for a very long time.

Mary’s Windmill jobs are generally short, tweaky and full of the thinking and measuring and factoring and “dialing in” that produce her truly fine work in mini-bursts. Then Shop Boy steps up, puts all press settings on the equivalent of “lowest common denominator,” slaps on ink and, without a whole lot of thought, begins a four-hour run of two-color menu shells for Woodberry Kitchen. They’re designed to be a little rough. Owner Spike Gjerde likes them that way. Shop Boy aims to please. I print a week’s worth at a time. It’s a popular restaurant. Good, too. You should try it.

So there’s the Windmill. But what really tips our friend off that I’m on site is my listening choices. In summer it’s often baseball. You don’t care who I root for, but it’s the Rockies and Red Sox. Otherwise it’s stuff Mary would never agree to listen to, and she runs the radio when we’re working together. When Shop Boy’s alone, hilarity ensues. Which we’ll get to, but first let’s talk about the radio. My choice is a station that mixes funny music with funny people, think Jonathan Coulton (so many zombies) with Jim Gaffigan (so many bacon jokes). Anyway, the same songs and jokes tend to cycle through, including this one stand-up comedian riffing on the idea of cars that “sense the road” to brake or steer on their own to save you (and others) from yourself when you can’t be bothered to pay attention to, you know, driving.

The slogan should be: ” ‘Ford … FOCUS!’ ”

I laugh every time because it’s true. Do a head count next time you are stuck in traffic or simply stopped at a red light. Check the rear-view mirror. How many cars approaching you from behind will feature a driver actually looking at your vehicle? You could drive all day in Baltimore and not get to 10. Ooh. (Yes, Shop Boy DOES safely pull over to the side of the road to answer the phone or text, by the way, mostly because I KNOW that I can’t drive and do anything else and also because you fellow drivers are liable to do anything dumb or mean you can think of all around me.)

So … cookies. They’re up top in the headline so they must refer to something, right?

We know some folks who are vegan, and this is fine, so we work to accommodate that when refreshments are called for. We go to a local market (chain) that is helpful in this regard. Something we’ve noticed about followers of a vegan lifestyle: Y’all like your snacks. Yes, this is America. But I mean, the snack section goes on forever. It can’t be good for you. Guess there’s only so much mealworm or cricket carbonara sauce one can consume before the taste buds revolt. But whatever. Not my call.

Vegan baked goods are not something Shop Boy has ever had a fondness for. One night, though, dinner had been skipped out of necessity and there I was in the shop. Was it the Heidelberg Windmill press or my stomach making all that noise? Mary had left some cookies for me that she’d bought for a meeting featuring a vegan guest. Mary’s southern by birthright, and so she had bought way, way too many cookies and offered as how, in a pinch, I might let these particular cookies surprise me with their goodness.

This was just such a pinch and, boy, was Shop Boy ever surprised.

The Windmill seemed to have the job momentarily under control and so, seasoned pressman that I am, Shop Boy partook. They were chocolate brownie cookies, and so soft. (Must be the mealworm preservatives.) Too soft?

As Shop Boy turned his head to check on the press (mid-bite), a bit of cookie became unhooked from the rest and flew into the air. I did say I was hungry, didn’t I? Ravenous, apparently.

You know how this printing press works, right? The unprinted paper is stacked on one side and you set the suction level so that one sheet is pulled into the impression area at a time. Printed, it then drops gently into the “out” pile. You can adjust this based upon the thickness of the paper. There’s no setting, alas, for “plus cookie chunk.”

If you know how a Heidelberg Windmill works, you probably know the rest. Here goes anyway: The weight of the cookie morsel made the next sheet in line fall out of the grippers. Well, the “intense black” ink had to go somewhere, and so now it was all over the tympan. Shop Boy had to get it completely off lest it mark the back of every menu to come, and that was going to take some time and effort.

It could have been worse. Shop Boy could have grabbed for the flying cookie and gotten mauled by the machine.

It could have been better. Mary was really, really mad when I fessed up (because it was going to come out anyway, either right then or in the blog). Was Shop Boy crazy? Had I gotten complacent? Don’t EVER eat and run the press! STOP, EAT, and only THEN run the press.

Heidelberg … FOCUS!

Anyway, I rescued the cookie chunk and ate it.

Unphased

April 7, 2017

zapCall me a weenie. Shop Boy is OK with that. But I am also satisfied with whatever “normal” electric current flows through my body. You know, the type of current that can pop car locks at a near touch, that can create an arcing bolt of lightning between Mary’s nose and mine before a kiss. So I just figured it wasn’t my place to go try and unhook a possibly still-“hot” three-phase electric current converter from the old space. Enough energy inside me already, you know?

You know what’s not inside me? One idea of how to work with electricity.

But the converter is valuable!

What am I, chopped liver?

Mary suggested that either I’d do it or she would, and so …

True story: Shop Boy’s mom would have moments when she was up to here with seven kids bickering around the dinner table. By the time we started arguing over whose turn it was to remove the dishes from the table, she’d blow. “Clear this table or I will,” she’d growl, gripping two corners of the tablecloth and threatening to yank them. We usually jumped over each other to begin clearing.

One day, we didn’t.

Cleanup took a bit longer than usual that night, despite the fact that there were now fewer plates and glasses to wash. You didn’t call my mother’s bluff. And I wasn’t about to call Mary’s. Instead, Shop Boy stalled. The proper tools were over at the new space, after all. But eventually, it was time.

“Hold my feet, I’m going in,” Shop Boy only half joked. Hey, might as well go out together, right?

Mary at least decided to call in a long-distance ringer to offer guidance on which wires not to cross. (I suppose my dad could have been more helpful there as well back in the day.) Brother-in-law Tom had installed the three-phase contraption, which allows you to operate machines like the Heidelberg Windmill from more common current rather than run actual three-phase electricity into the building. The money savings can be phenomenal. But when you move, you need to unhook it and see to it that the wires do not become a hazard for, in this case, the workers coming to begin rebuilding (and rewiring) the old factory.

One problem: Tom’s in Massachusetts. We’re not.

Second problem: He needed to see the wires Shop Boy was touching. We could FaceTime on our iPhones, but we’d long since canceled the WiFi that FaceTime requires.

Now, Shop Boy wonders sometimes why Mary keeps him around. He never wonders why he keeps her. She began figuring out how to use my phone as a zombie/hotspot to channel wireless to her phone, something she’d heard about once. While she was doing that, Shop Boy trudged to the new shop (just down the street) to grab a few final tools, surely the instruments of his own doom.

I returned to find that the cavalry had arrived. On Mary’s phone, Shop Boy could see a white-bearded guru calmly dispensing the wisdom of the ages from his mountaintop lair. (Actually, it was Tom—a wiseguy for sure—from his living room. But the advice was no less sage for whence it emanated.)

On the factory floor, staring the three-phase converter in the eyes, was Jake Rivera of Baltimore’s Design & Integration. The firm does communications work, arena-sized (and less huge), amazing, one-of-a-kind, audio-visual gigs.

Jake, wife and business partner Tammy and their sons had been celebrating with us the end of an era at the building. Mary mentioned the converter, and Jake was curious. And wiring’s wiring, right?

Shop Boy’s brain: “Yes, Jake, it is. You go, young man!”

Before you could say, “Thank you,” Jake had disconnected the converter to much applause and explained how we should cap off and then seal up the loose wires. Even I could handle that. And as Shop Boy bravely turned the screw that sealed the wires behind a metal plate, Mary patted my head like the farty, old, loyal, afraid-of-lightning dog that I am.

Pride be damned.

Turn Out the Lights

April 3, 2017

When you spend enough of your life in one physical space—an entire life chapter filled with so many highs and lows, laughs and tears—it’s hard to close the door on it. That realization is not exactly breaking news, but there you (and we) go.

We are talking about a building that frosted our very souls each winter with lousy heat control and spooked us with weird, late-night creaks and groans or the occasional freaky insects—as in when the furniture place next door was importing all those Indonesian chairs. Ooh. It also took thousands of Typecast Press dollars to paint and decorate just so and improve the lighting in three separate spaces so that, you know, we could see the bugs coming and arm ourselves.

The building’s given Shop Boy headaches and heartaches and, lord knows, muscle aches. Oh, and plenty to write about lo these 249 posts later.

Sure, but over more than a decade the space also produced unbreakable friendships and a (fairly unique) business model that we think can withstand the twists and turns of the economy as well as Mary’s infamous crusader tendencies.

It’s done, then. (Not the blog, sorry. Shop Boy’s just getting started … again.) Late Sunday afternoon, we toasted the Noxzema-Fox-Simpson Strong-tie Building with fellow former residents and hoarders. We took a few pictures and one last look around the place to make sure we didn’t leave anything behind, then locked the door to 3100 Falls Cliff Road, future home of the reimagined Fox Building and the residents of its planned 93 apartments. Nevermore will a frazzled man and a tired but still tweaky woman hunch over a Chandler & Price printing press in the middle of the night doing crazy things to meet a deadline. Gone are the days of running frantically around the building to find the owner of the car illegally parked in the loading dock so we can get our paper for a big job. At Fox, anyway. Never again will a member of the Mashburn family—including myself—trip and fall down those concrete steps. (Sniff! I’m having a moment.)

As Rolie Polie Olie welcomes his own uncertain future with a trademark “Howdy!” so will we welcome our next chapter (already in progress).

roly

We’re gone.

 

Suckers for Punishment

March 31, 2017

We were almost out of Dum-Dums, a very bad sign for how the move prep was progressing as well as our next dental checkups. These little lollipops had become dinner and dessert, as well as life preservers in the “just keep going” moments.

Mary has often teased Shop Boy about his love for Dum-Dums, which persists to this day even though the candy’s name is, well, D-U-M … dumb. And even though most often they come into one’s possession via a fish bowl at the check-out of a restaurant where 100 sets of germy hands have preceded yours. Or you pull one from the linty pocket of the jacket you put away last March … ah, fresh as the day sugar and artificial substances were magically mixed to create it.

Then there are the flavors. Mary’s got a problem with most of them, root beer and cherry being those she can best stand. Pineapple? Forget it. (Awesome to my tastes, by the way, as are grape, lemon-lime, orange, strawberry, raspberry, bubblegum and, yes, cherry too.) Hint: If there are two Dum-Dums left in the bowl and one of them has a “mystery flavor” wrapper, take the known quantity. In Shop Boy’s experience, the mystery wrapper exists only to sneak a few of the flavor mistakes into unsuspecting mouths.

Anyway, Mary had actually bought this batch of Dum-Dums as an enticement to shoppers at our two yard sales, events meant to limit what we’d need to carry away from the old Fox Building. We also had beer and wine, as well as birthday cake (for me!) at the first sale. The cake got hit pretty hard.

We sold some printing stuff we hadn’t touched in years as well as several printing presses. It was nice to see those machines go back into circulation, and operation. And as shoppers and friends of letterpress took their bargains, Mary and I kept busy organizing what—it was becoming clear—was sure to be left. All of it had to be out of the building by March 31. They were changing the locks. Whenever Shop Boy lagged (it happens), Dum-Dums were summoned.

Where would we be without those tasty little sugar bombs? Not here:

Fox Hunting

March 24, 2017

It’s cool going through old factories that have been mostly gutted out and prepped for a resurgence as some fancy “historic” this or that. Just to see the bones of the old place, to imagine what the developers see in that ratty old skeleton. And when the factory dealt with some pretty nasty substances and there are slimy remnants of them splattered up and down the beautiful support beams, that can take some pretty good imagination. Still, five years from now no one will remember what was.

So we were in the guts of the old Fox Building, most recently known as the home of Simpson Strong-Tie. These were companies that made protective coatings for construction materials. We’d long had a feeling and more recently had learned of concrete plans to convert the old factory—where Noxzema face cream was first mass produced!—into something like 95 apartments. Our initial inkling had come during a work break one day out on the rusty old loading dock, looking beyond the trees at the Jones Falls and the skyline of downtown Baltimore. Shop Boy can’t remember whether he or Mary said it first: “This is the next place in Hampden to go condo.” It was pretty obviously a prime perch on a hill.

We moved Typecast Press (or almost all of it, anyway) to another factory—the Mill Centre, as you know—as quickly as we could and were hardly out the door five minutes when the Fox apartments deal was announced. What had been our “windmill room” at Fox was now a storage space with a Vandercook, a C&P and a bunch of smaller presses and all the ephemera that goes with having spent more than a decade in the letterpress biz. We were given a date when all of our remaining stuff needed to be gone. That date is in two weeks.

Two yard sales have come and gone, the presses are all spoken for, and we’re down to a manageable pile of letterpress extras. The movers are lined up to take that over to a new little hoarder space we’ve added at the Mill Centre, because what else would you do? Meantime we’d run into a building manager who explained that the Fox and Simpson folks had taken all they were going to pull out of the building. We could go spelunking if we wanted, and if we found something and could carry it, we owned it now.

That hoarder space isn’t going to fill itself, am I right?

Crazy old paper towel holder? Check. Weird thing on the wall that held a key or something? Check. Folding yellow “danger” fence? You try to say no to that. Chemical hazard pants with yellow suspenders and matching boot covers? Shop Boy was all over that action. Some dude named Nick left a pile of his freshly laundered (me-sized) Simpson work shirts behind? We did not. A roll of plastic “Flammable Liquid” tape? You kidding me?

Seriously, I often meet people who own some strange but very cool object or other—a strip club neon sign, a merry-go-round pony or, say, hazard pants—and wonder, “How in heck did they end up owning that?” There’s your answer.

Of course, we did end up pulling a couple of lockers from a creepy back restroom that were unimaginably … clean. They’re clearly enchanted or something to stay so (relatively) untouched by so many years of grubby work clothes and worrisome air quality. We did a quick spritz with Simple Green, high-fived and called it a day.

I measured them each at a hair over 12 inches wide, 18 inches deep and 7 feet tall. We’d need to figure out how to fit them in the new print shop, which is laid out pretty intricately. Oh, there’s that narrow space between the metal shelves and the chest that holds the old McCormick spices cuts and such. And there’s that slender spot between the plate maker and the cabinet across the room that holds old die-cutting forms. Hmm.

For now, we stowed the lockers in our own space at Fox, then stopped at the new shop on the way home to measure. The gap between the metal shelves and the chest came in at a little over 12 inches wide and 18 inches deep with 7 feet-plus of clearance up the wall. OK, so I guess that works. Across the room, we measured the similar furniture gap at 11.75 inches. Dang. We’d have to nudge the cabinet over a whole .275 inches to make our evil plan work.

Meant to be? No. We should have left well enough alone. (Did I mention the two yard sales?) But we do now have one locker with shelves to hold our ink supply (currently stuck in a box or piled somewhat less than elegantly beneath the inking stone) and one locker with a rack to hold all of Nick’s shirts, so there you go.

February, Going on March

February 7, 2017

The other day, Shop Boy spoke with his dad. This would not be a big deal except for the political undercurrent in America and our starkly varying views on it. No, that’s not really it. My dad’s a smart guy, great with numbers and generous with his checkbook. He was the best man at my wedding to Mary (almost 28 years later, I still believe I made the right choices). But, ahem … what a pain in the ass!

OK, that’s not really it, either.

My dad’s 87, which means he’s seen some good stuff and some really bad stuff. He’s got the perspective of being alive during the Great Depression’s dark years, of being an immigrant’s son, of working himself through college, of a hitch in the U.S. Army, of a career at the Department of Housing and Urban Development that let him raise seven kids, retire earlier than most and live not as a rich man but as a guy who’s got few worries besides the sands of time running out. He’s got a new hip, and a bum shoulder—which doesn’t keep him from swinging a golf club, so he’s OK with that. He’s got perspective.

It’s just that he chooses not to use it sometimes. Dad’s a contrarian, in other words. He finds it funny that we get so worked up over the idea of a petulant egomaniac putting the whole world on edge.

I called him anyway. He’d sent me a check at the holidays, and this is February. It was time to pull my head out of my … uh, the ground, see those four more years of nuclear winter staring us in the face, thank him for the gift and, ugh, congratulate him on the New England Patriots’ win in the Super Bowl.

People often ask Shop Boy, a New England kid, how I became a fan of the Miami Dolphins, the arch enemy of the “hometown” Pats. (I’ll keep it brief, but feel free to skip this paragraph if you hate sports, or especially football. I get it.) There’s a rule in the NFL that if you don’t sell out your games, they aren’t televised locally. The Patriots were very bad when I was growing up those million years ago. Few people chose to go see them in person, so their games were never televised. Instead, every Sunday, ta-da! Miami Dolphins, the only team ever to go undefeated for a whole season. Super Bowl trophies. Colorful players. Cheerleaders wearing … nothing, really. Flipper the dolphin doing somersaults after every touchdown! Now, the Pats are great and the Dolphins somewhat less than that. But you don’t switch allegiances like that guy with the brand-new Patriots hat in your office today. End of story.

Again, it’s February, and I owed Dad a call. My birthday is this month. (Every single year it’s like that. What are the odds?) Here’s the thing: My dad is living his life, and I do my best to do nothing that pulls him out of his routine, which once again includes Zoomba, because of course it does. He’s the only man in the class, because of course he is. None of my visits to him in Rhode Island lasts longer than a day or two, and even those are rare. It’s incredibly important to me that he get to live and die as he chooses. When I’m there he feels he needs to entertain me rather than be with his cronies at the golf course/bar or with the Ladies of Zoomba. And my brother and all five sisters keep him surrounded. Will I regret not seeing him more often when he’s gone? Maybe. But I’d regret even more disrupting his late-life shenanigans.

Besides, I know this dude a little bit. The memories will remain if I, somehow, outlive him.

Anyway, I had to tell him that we printed posters for the Women’s March on Washington in January. He’d donated a little money to Typecast Press to help with our recent move to the Mill Centre, and I wanted him to know that our new, improved print shop was being used for good causes.

He laughed. I knew he would. Deep down, he’s all right.

OK, that’s not really it. He’d have been right there alongside us if he could be—giving us crap the whole time, naturally. My best man’s got his flaws. He thinks all this is funny, and I sure as heck hope he’s right.

Meantime, here’s to you, Dad:

gwbgt_march

 

… Or Die Tryin’

January 6, 2017

Take a remorseless Chandler and Price printing press, a pile of old school record album covers and a die-cutting form with metal blades in shapes representing phases of the moon. Now add Shop Boy, a pair of tweezers and a tight deadline.

What have you got? Bet you wouldn’t say “success story.”

Well, I’m lucky to be here to tell you that it was just that, somehow.

The job was for Baltimore’s own Anne Watts and her talented band Boister. It was Typecast Press’ second spin with designing and creating a Boister album cover. Mary’s idea this time was to make holes in the all-black cover that would create an illusion by exposing selected bits of a pre-printed inside sleeve.

It won’t blow the surprise (the album’s been out a while now) to tell you that the inside image is an eerie, artsy shot of eggs in a stream and that the die would cut phases of the moon into the cover, revealing a brighter, fuller “moon” as the egg shells and the cut-outs matched up at the apex.

boister_cast-a-net

We’d cut the shapes all the way through the album, so the effect works on the back side too — revealing faces of the bandmates as they match up on a collage. Cool, right? Most of Mary’s concepts are. But always … reality.

Because of the size and variations in the precise thickness of each cover, the die-cutting would need to be done by hand-feeding on the old C&P rather than the self-feeding Heidelberg windmill. But since since there were only a few hundred to do, it figured to be a snap. Except … well, you know.

Each time the die passed through the album, it created two little bits of loose cardboard per phase of the moon. A lot of these fell inside the album to be retrieved and recycled later. All but two of the others fell to the floor, making a delightful mess. These two became lodged in the part of the die representing the skinniest crescent of moon. These cutting forms are built with internal cushions that help to repel such scraps, but this one was overmatched. Do two passes in a row and the die would no longer cut that part. Paper jam. Wasted album cover. So Shop Boy would run one cover, stop the machine, remove the jam with a pair of tweezers, load a new cover into the guides, turn on the machine, and repeat, repeat, repeat. Jeez, the first 20 albums took about an hour as I slowly figured out the best way to clear the bits without damaging the die.

That’s when inspiration struck. I told Mary I had it under control, and since this was in our old, multi-roomed studio, she soon got bored and went across the hall. And I did the only logical thing. I mean, the clock was ticking. So …

We feed these C&Ps left-handed (because Mary is of that persuasion). There I stood, then, tweezers in my right hand, album covers stacked where my left hand could reach them, and turned the machine on. It went like this: Pull lever to print mode; place album cover into guides; cut shapes; throw lever to trip mode; pull album cover and place on “out” pile; reach into jaws of C&P to deftly unstick the paper bits from the crescent; place new album; throw lever into print mode. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Now we were (dangerously) getting somewhere.

See, as printers know, any human parts left in the impression zone of a motorized printing press for one second too long become the property of that machine. Thank heavens Shop Boy can be a dexterous little idiot. But it was scary. Honestly, it’s probably the dumbest thing I’ve done since that time with the 10-foot ladder and that extremely heavy table top and the loft and, oh, we’ll just save that story for anther day.

Besides, I should probably tell you a little bit about how I adapted the madness … I mean method … for die-cutting the little CD jackets.

Little bits. Really, really little bits.

And that’s probably enough said about it.

 

 

 

 

 

Give Us a Sign

June 24, 2016

Mary’s been so busy making signs for other people’s businesses that she’s never gotten around to making a real one for Typecast. I mean, isn’t that what makes you a real, legitimate business? Instead of, “Oh, just go knock on those green double doors.”

Don’t get Shop Boy wrong here. Mary’s work has kept the lights on at the print shop (and at home, where she works through the night on the proper kerning of eight-foot letters, the proper blink rate of an ice cream arrow and such).

a_ice cream

Nothing flashy, just something that creates a feeling of permanence, if there ever were such a thing. Shop Boy ponders the question a lot: How long will we be doing this printing thing? Not to get all existential or anything, but Shop Boy left the “boy” section of life behind several decades ago. (I did have to outrun a mugger a few days ago, so it’s not all gone yet.) Wouldn’t it be fun some day to be that little old dude outside a print shop grinning by a sign that reads “established 1843” or whatever?

The inside of the shop will still scream “established by a 9-year-old princess,” but there you go.

a_princesses

There’s a little plaque we had made a number of years back that announces Typecast as “The Old Printer’s Home and Museum of Mostly Useless Antiquities.” It’s a right-reading, copper-on-wood plate that we had made when we were roommates with Chris Hartlove, back when he was a photographer who actually used film negatives (and a darkroom … imagine!). It’s fun, but it’s not really a “sign sign.” We’ve had the letter magnets you can see on this blog’s homepage, but they get all crooked every time someone, ahem, slams the door.

Anyway, while Mary’s been behind the visual renaissance of Belvedere Square Market, the sign announcing The Dabney (a new DC eatery), ridiculously cool and gone-too-soon sign painting at Shoo-fly Diner (permanence? yikes) and more at the thriving Parts & Labor, Shop Boy has wondered what it’d be like to have an external sign—again, just a little one—announcing our presence to the general public. Well, our recent move to a new shop, Mary’s completion of her assignments (hah!) and the fate that would land us next door to a sign maker removed all excuses.

And there we are.

a_door

 

Deals on Wheels

April 21, 2016

The first time Shop Boy ever laid eyes on a Fiat 500 was at Baltimore’s Artscape festival a few years back and … my goodness. Like the AMC Gremlin, the Subaru Brat (I’m dating myself), the Ford Ranger pickup, the original Scion xB and just-as-boxy Nissan Cube before it, the 500 knocked me out.

A dealer was showing them off, letting people climb inside. But just as Shop Boy popped open the passenger’s side door to let Mary in, some lady and her smelly, shedding dog hopped in from the other side, the sun’s rays catching all the free-flying fur that quickly filled the cabin. (People and dogs! I love dogs. Stop it anyway, please.) We closed the door and walked away, and I figured that’s about as close as Shop Boy would ever get to the driver’s seat of one of these adorable things.

Well, speaking of brats …

Mary tends to give Shop Boy anything he wants besides time off for good behavior. And I am prone to debilitating bouts of self-doubt and worry. She and Typecast Press can’t afford to wait out my darker moods, so when I get like this she bribes me, like so:

(Truth be told, Shop Boy gives her whatever she wants, too, whatever her mood. It’s a toxic combination, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun sometimes.)

Besides, with my truck on the demise, I needed a new ride, something small, fuel-efficient and relatively cheap. Being a Carmax.com junkie, Shop Boy knew right where to look. Smart Cars were the cheapest things they had at White Marsh, where we bought Mary’s silver Volvo wagon a couple of years ago and the blue 850 that preceded it. The price of the Fiats was running a little higher, and Smart Cars are adorable and I’ve wanted to drive one forever and so … then Shop Boy drove one. “You are witnessing the death of a dream,” I told Dave, the very patient Carmax guy.

Seriously, you should have seen us: two big guys piled into that tiny cockpit. Not happening. And I thought I’d wanted an automatic transmission after all these years with a clutch and stick shift. Turns out I was just practicing for this little baby.

Man, I’m going to miss that truck. (I wore dark glasses to hide my misty eyes as I handed the keys to a new owner with far more expertise in vehicle repair at her disposal. She swears the old truck — below, with the new kid — is just getting started. I hope so.) I’m also going to miss window shopping on Carmax.com, clearly. (What a loon!)

A Car truck

A_car2

 

One Shop Stopping

April 1, 2016

EmptyIt’s hard to find anything good to say about the act of paying rent on two printshops at once, yet there we were.

The new space wasn’t yet ready to take in even one more box of letterpress stuff; the old one wasn’t yet empty of the stuff that needed to come with us. Worse, another tenant was waiting on us to get the heck out. But you know how it is. Or perhaps you’re lucky enough not to know:

If you’re relocating to someplace 1,000 miles away, you do it in one terribly painful move.

If you’re relocating to someplace 1,000 feet away (as we were), you do it in 753 (Shop Boy counted) small, terribly painful moves.

So, when we set the vacuum cleaner down (and changed out its bag — no sense bringing old dust to the new space) for the final time in Studios 4 and 12 (with Mary in photo) of the Fox Industries Building, it was a momentous and, yes, moving occasion. With a flick of the light switches to the “off” position, the Typecast Press monthly rent total fell by nearly half. (Of course, we had to keep a little space over at Fox — Studio 3 — for stuff that needs a new home, because that’s how we roll.) That job done, we trudged the 1,000 feet to the new space and got busy making it ours for real.

And the next day, something amazing happened. Usually, Mary or Shop Boy would call ahead to ask at which shop space the other one happened to be. Instead, we woke up, had a cup of coffee and headed off in the same direction. Sweet.

Together, I’m sure we’ll think of some way to spend the extra money.

 

Better Men Than Me

February 23, 2016

“I got this.”

When you move heavy stuff for a living, you don’t need Shop Boy’s input or necessarily his assistance to get things where they need to go: down the hall, onto a truck, down the road, into Typecast Press’ new home in the Mill Centre. You especially don’t need that help from the wild-eyed, panicked, up-all-night version of me who greeted Jimmy Jones and his guys on the loading dock on that cold February morning.

The only good information required of Shop Boy in the course of a long day of lifting and tugging was along the lines of “Where does this immense stack of paper made from stone go?”

JJ Movers

The fellows pictured above are Jimmy (in baseball cap) and, from left, Chico, John, and Hoss, who were so fast and strong that at one point an exasperated Mary, staying behind and struggling to keep packing as they moved three separate truckloads, simply stuck an open box next to a desktop and swept the contents into it with her arm. This is so not Mary, which is why the packing process had taken so long. But the pace was clearly picking up!

(To emphasize the strength of these gentlemen, at one point an ancient mimeograph machine that we’d acquired toppled and fell toward the floor as Jimmy passed it. He caught it: behind him, with one finger! I swear. It had taken me and Mary — and a few curse words — to coax the darn, clumsy thing down from the loft. Honestly, I can’t recommend J&J Hauling (email jjmovinghauling@yahoo.com) highly enough. Our big presses fly North American Millwright Services and Capt. Bruce Baggan, aka Santa Claus, because of course they do. But everything else goes via Jimmy.)

Mary kept reminding me to let the guys do their thing and get out of the way, but I like to be helpful. It’s like when the waitperson is clearing the table and I’ll helpfully stack some stuff and hand it over, never failing to dump the silverware on the floor or something extraordinarily unhelpful like that. So I kind of stood and pointed. We’d drawn a layout of the new printshop that mostly worked, so that part was pretty straightforward. Like the mimeograph, everything got to the new place safely.

I mean, everything that was packed in time or wasn’t being left behind by choice. That stuff’s on me now. So you want to help move stuff, eh Shop Boy?

Give me strength.

Truckload of Regrets

February 8, 2016

SB-fordShop Boy and his truck went over the hill at the same time. Only one, it seems, is coming back.

It wasn’t exactly the truck’s fault. It hadn’t gotten fat or ignored its blood or cholesterol (like its owner). And it wasn’t totally Shop Boy’s fault that he loved a vehicle to death. Babied it to its grave. And yet, there it sat at the repair shop as a mechanic read off a dire list of things it would take to make the old Ford Ranger salvageable … at only 35,000 miles and 16 years of age.

Turns out Shop Boy’s low annual mileage routine was the worst thing for the vehicle. Mostly it sat … and rusted. It always was leaky. I’d jump in the driver’s seat after a rainstorm and put my foot into a puddle. And after a delivery truck smacked it one day outside the printshop, busting part of the wheel well, water was apparently free to roam its chassis, rusting out the brakes, exhaust system and the suspension. That’s all I can figure. Three of the four tires were shot. (Shop Boy had long blamed the teeth-rattling driving experience on Baltimore’s roads. They of course are not completely innocent in this matter either.) And my bad for not recognizing the extra care an idled car requires.

Anyhow, the very nice guy at the repair place suggested it would cost at least twice what the truck is worth to make it safe to drive for more than a few additional weeks, if it even had that long. I had him replace one tire, install a new battery (which was about dead too) and change the oil a final time.

It was a sad ride home, with all of the strange squeaks and instability Shop Boy had so long ignored now clear as a bell. Shop Boy, heart heavy, gets a second chance at getting this “being alive” thing right, with a little medication and a few “lifestyle modifications.” The truck is either going to end up in a backyard — thanks to a weekend mechanic who’ll appreciate my subtlety with the clutch, I’m thinking — or the boneyard. It’s not for sale right now. Shop Boy couldn’t do that in good conscience. (Lots of dudes have asked over the years if they could buy it. Nice-looking machine, it was/is. The parking meter readers are going to really miss putting tickets under its windshield wipers.) I’ll let Carmax make it safe or sell any good parts it’s got left.

Whatever good parts Shop Boy’s got left will soon be surrounded by a car-car. No more pickups. The truck bed was seldom used except as a trash can for jerks walking past. And Carmax will sell me a tiny little runabout thingy for less than I originally paid for the Ranger, which Shop Boy begged and begged and begged Mary to let me buy. There’s no denying it was a good run … that has run its course.

But that doesn’t make it any easier. RIP.

Ol’ Factory Issues

January 11, 2016

SB_CanarySo we’re moving. Typecast Press, that is. Lock, stock and most of the barrels, just down the hill as it turns out. The new studio is a bit smaller, but it’s one contained room vs. three separate spaces. It’s solid wood floors that will eventually be lovely (I’ll talk about that another day) and will be easier on our legs. It’s got dependable heat! And it’s got that reassuring, stood-the-test-of-time smell of an old building.

“No, that’s a gas leak,” Mary insisted as I gave her a tour of prep work Shop Boy had done on the space. And when our little canary in the coal mine smells gas, she flies away. “We’re not moving in. I can’t work here.” This constituted a bit of a problem, since we’d just signed a three-year lease.

See, Mary’s nose is something of a marvel. It can smell a gas leak in the next county (proven) as well as a mouse taking its first cautious steps (and poops) in from the cold. I don’t even argue the second one anymore. I just go get the traps. But gas? Here? After all we’d been through to find the perfect place to start our second decade as a business? We’d eliminated several previous buildings because of molecules per billion of natural gas seeping from … somewhere. (And landlords who were dismissive of Mary’s concerns … bad idea, FYI.) We’d waved off a seemingly ideal spot in an up-and-coming complex (with a grassy amphitheater, water fountain, patio and gas grills thrown in!) because it smelled a bit of “basement.” Truth be told, the anticipated build-out costs even for our simple space there made that decision more OK.

Here we were, though, in THE perfect spot by Shop Boy’s way of thinking. One big room, just under 1,600 square feet. We were giving up a few hundred square feet in total. But no more wandering down the hallway to a separate space to make plates or to check color consistency on an envelope job with the Heidelberg windmills (wedding invitation) and Chandler & Price clamshell presses (envelopes) in different rooms. I’d measured the new digs, four squares on the graph paper representing 1 foot, then created little cutouts of each piece of equipment, furniture, type cases and shelving we own using the same formula. We’d need to offload some things we’d bought as newbie printers but outgrown or shifted away from. But my layout worked, and followed my only rules for a printshop Mary and Shop Boy occupy.

Rule 1: Lots of space to safely work on and around machines. (I realize that many talented and prolific letterpress printers have made do with far less space, but Shop Boy is far less proficient, nimble and organized sometimes and must build in the cost to cover his shortcomings. Anyway, the difference in rent ends up being a wash because Mary’s smart.)

Rule 2: Clean and, where possible, pretty.

Mary’s rule: No gas smell. (Oh, and aprons with fun patches like “Bear Friends Society” or “sock monkey in a chapeau.” This part Shop Boy has on lock, being fairly accomplished at the ironing board.)

But the holidays were approaching, we needed to get our presses moved out of the old space and, well, we’re printers. We kind of needed to, like, print. Shop Boy called the building manager and, oh, um, uh, asked whether Mary could maybe examine the heating apparatus and test gas levels under the building.

(Stand in Shop Boy’s shoes for one minute and tell me you wouldn’t have done the same.)

Oddly enough, the answer was not “we’ll open the basement door and then you can just keep going all the way to hell” but “sure, why not?”

And so that is how (and where) Mary met the building contractor, and if Shop Boy ever meets the dude I’ll kiss his ring. He showed Mary around, patiently explained stuff, even sort of confirmed her theory that pre-winter boiler work could be behind it all. A bad valve had indeed been replaced recently and the gas smell was probably just working its way out of the building.

Sounded about right by Shop Boy and sensible enough that Mary gave the riggers the OK to move in the presses. Still, she’s not taking chances. “What’s this?” Shop Boy asked of a box that arrived the other day.

“I bought a gas meter,” she said. “I’m getting a reading over there. It’s still a little seeping up from the basement. But if you caulk, and fix the loose baseboards, and do trim around the whole room, and …”

Happily.

We’re home.

SB_Move1

Bumblers

May 18, 2015

beeblog1The bees ignored the buzz. And so, for a minute or two, could we.

It was a Saturday, the final day under a curfew set by the mayor after unrest in Baltimore City. It had been a scary week, with wild swings between worrying about ourselves, our Bolton Hill home, and our favorite city places and also whether fellow Baltimore residents — those so angered over the death of a man in police custody — could themselves stay safe as they continued to protest peacefully (Mary among them at one point). It never felt as though the whole city would explode but it felt enough like it could. From where we sat, the endless rotor noise of the police and National Guard choppers hovering above our house and circling our neighborhood was annoying at first, and soon became maddening.

How could this possibly end well? We fretted aloud as Mary kept track of events via Twitter.

beeblog2And just outside our door, in the mad tangle of a gnarled, old wisteria vine, the bumblebees were oblivious to everything but the nectar that awaited them within the fresh purple-blue blooms. It was bee-petting time.

Mary’s birthday tends to coincide with the first wisteria bloom of the season (hence the festive poster I made for her this year) and she finds it great fun to celebrate by sniffing the blooms as the bees fly drunkenly all around her. When one alights for a few seconds on a nearby flower, she’ll extend her index finger and gently pet the furry yellow portion of its upper back. She reports it to be incredibly soft. I have not had the pleasure. “Bee” is a synonym for “ouch” in my personal dictionary. I took my share of stings while running barefoot through the clover that covered our shoddy “baseball field” as a kid. But whatever. It was Mary’s moment, in the middle of all this angst, the bees just doing what bees do and a couple of us Baltimoreans trying to do the same.

She giggled as a bumblebee she was petting took flight, its wings flapping against her finger to create an angry-sounding “BBBBBBBBZZZZZZZZZZZ!” She apologized to the bee, which simply moved to the next bar stool.

The Last Printing Press You’ll Ever Need

April 14, 2015

Mary speaks of printing presses in what for her are hushed tones, or anyway what they lack in hush they more than make up for in reverence.

And every time I think we’ve found and acquired her holy grail of letterpresses, she develops a reverence for another one. It’s like I married a dude having a midlife crisis sometimes. Like, for instance, a red Ferrari would weigh 3 tons less and have only a slightly larger footprint than the latest printing press she fell for: the Heidelberg KS.

Oh, but what it’ll do … or so Shop Boy is told. See, we’ve never laid eyes on the thing. Mary bought it at auction from a place in, I swear, Novelty, Ohio. Today it’s in Baltimore, at North American Millwright, a name you should surely know if you’ve followed our loopy path as printers or have had to move something really, really, really heavy. Bruce Baggan and his crew are the best. (Bruce reports that the press arrived in good shape.) This month or next we will meet the thing in person, at our shop.

I’m excited, and not. Like a sports car, these printing presses cost money. Mary will naturally tell you she got a sweetheart deal, but she’s in love, so whatever. All I know is 4 tons and that, to get this one in, another press has to go.

a_miehleAnd it’s looking as though the Miehle V50 is it. That one wasn’t Mary’s fault. It followed us home, for “only” the cost of moving it, from a Baltimore printshop before we knew enough to say no. We know it works, and it’s even got brand new rollers. Two problems: Mary’s first love is the Heidelberg windmill (Shop Boy lands anywhere between No. 2 and No. 5 depending upon how timely I am with dinner). She’s a whiz at running the windmill, and now another Heidelberg is (almost) in the house.

Also, the V50 is a younger person’s press, with ink tray cleaning performed from your knees and big, heavy chases (even when empty – imagine it with a Boxcar base!) that must be dead-lifted into the guides.

Shop Boy just had another birthday go past. Geez, it’s like that happens every stinking year. Pretty soon you’ve got more behind than ahead. And so that might soon be the story for the Miehle. We don’t want to scrap it. Mary listed in on Briar Press for $600 or best offer.

Zero offers and counting. Apparently the last thing people need is a 3-ton paper towel holder.

Or are you that person?

It’s great at holding coffee cups, too.

 

A Snowball’s Chance

January 28, 2015

snowball launcherWhen we were kids, a friend had this plastic snowball stick.  It looked like a baseball bat but with a hollowed end. You stuck it into the snow and the flakes were packed down and transformed into what looked like an artillery shell. How it worked was, you swung it downward like an ax, launching an icy projectile (Rhode Island snow tends to be slushy). It wasn’t very accurate at all. That’s why I really didn’t think twice as I swung it toward the road where a classic old car was going beautifully about its business.

When it came to hitting cars with snowballs from great distances, I was advanced for my age. It was a thrill to mentally compute the speed and direction of the car, distance, density/weight of the snowball (and escape routes) all before letting it fly and waiting for the target to reach spot X as the snowball roared out of the heavens to meet it. Land it on the hood and … wow, what an angry driver. I’d done the math for this gorgeous, shiny black car, but I didn’t really want to hit it, and the stupid snowball stick never worked anyhow. So what in blazes was that way-too-big chunk of ice and snow doing flying over the electrical wires toward the exact spot I’d aimed for? As soon as it left the stick I knew. (A natural snowball thrower has a feel for such things.) Yup …

Bang! Screeeeech! Run!

You don’t think of consequences so much when you’re a kid … and fast enough to get away. (A high school-aged guy caught me once and roughed me up a little bit. The gentlest beating of my life, though. He didn’t want to be hitting me, clearly, but knew I needed to learn a lesson — since I’d really wanted to hit his car, a fast-moving Chevy Nova. Or maybe he had a criminal record and didn’t want to end up back in one of Cranston, RI’s fine prisons. I wasn’t going to complain either way.)

I tell this story because that’s just so amazingly not me today. One, I can barely throw a snowball across an alley, never mind most of a city block. Hurt my elbow at a young age. (CAR-ma, ha-ha! Karma! Get it?) Two, just the idea of hurting someone, even unintentionally (snowball hits car, driver panics and crashes, say …), makes me feel cold inside. And it’s way too easy to hurt people simply by being stupid. Take the car commercial featuring potential buyers being given a high-speed thrill ride in a “race car” only to learn it’s just a normal sedan when they peel away the plastic parts. Message: Buy this boring-looking sedan and you can race on the city streets, fella.

Yikes.

Or, for that matter, ads for the more modern snowball launcher, which I found doing a web search for pictures of the old stick. This one is a VERY BAD IDEA. I mean, look at the face of the kid in that photo up top! He’s gonna put somebody’s eye out.

Three, today it tends to be far more thrilling to do the quick computations on how to be a nice guy and then watch that (mostly) happen instead. Or, to relive those childhood memories (on days when it was supposed to snow!) from a distance even my adolescent arm couldn’t reach. Bang! An old softie.

Anyway, Shop Boy originally wrote this blog entry for a way to talk about other, more important bloggers — real nursing students — at Johns Hopkins University, where I work now when not at Typecast Press. Take a look if you get a chance. You’ll also see more of Shop Boy’s writing (under an alias, this St. Angelo dude). I had nothing new to say that day about nursing but needed a fresh entry. Veteran readers of this blog know that Shop Boy can talk a whole lot about nothing. New readers, beware.

Today, Impressions of a Shop Boy needed a fresh entry. Next time I might blab on … just because I can. Like, remind me to tell you about the time I got into a snowball fight with a Boston Red Sox pitching prospect who threw 89 mph, and my face ended up playing catcher. Karma. Get it?

All Downhill From There

January 6, 2015
deer He of the nose knows not to mess with Monument Hill.

He of the nose knows not to mess with Monument Hill.

Why can’t we learn?

Most days of the year, Denver is about a 75-minute drive (at 75 mph!) from Colorado Springs on Interstate 25. In between the two cities, every day of the year, is Monument Hill. I’m guessing the pass was so named because a lot of monuments tend to be made of white marble, so think “white knuckles” and “white-outs.” On the wrong days, you need to get over the Monument Hill pass before both set in.

This, then, was the wrong day to make a snowy, last-minute dash for tacos just so we could get one more pile of Mexican food into our rounding post-holiday bellies before heading off to the Denver airport. “Denver-ish airport” is far more apt. When we lived in downtown Denver in the 1990s, Stapleton Airport was a 15-minute run. Stapleton was the best. The modern Denver International Airport is really not so very good at all in comparison. And it is a long, long way from downtown Denver. Very bad idea, but it did make some people a lot of money and of course that’s awesome.

As were the tacos, but c’mon, folks. Let’s go already.

Mary’s parents live in Colorado Springs, which is actually at a higher elevation than the Mile High City. It’s a strip-mally kind of existence, just vast expanses of big-box stores and gas stations and silly housing developments surrounded by the most breath-taking scenery. There’s a slightly religious feeling, for instance, to looking out the front door of Trader Joe’s at … the glory that is Pikes Peak. Honestly, it’s like going about your miserable little bingeing, burping, barfing life in a postcard. And soon you begin to take the surroundings for granted. Humans (yuck).

Anyway, Mary grabbed her laptop and checked the Monument Hill road cam: Clear as a summer day. She checked the Denver weather: Sunny, with light winds. So the snow falling like mad in the Springs was merely a lovely annoyance. The TV weatherman described it as a southern storm, with the Springs its northernmost edge. Once we’d reached the city limits, headed north to Denver, it would trouble us no more.

All those trips back and forth from Colorado Springs to Denver in the 1990s and on a bunch of visits ever since … and we believed this?

So, two hours of driving an unfamiliar car in the snowy ruts made by the vehicle just ahead, afraid to blink your eyes lest you end up plunging, doomed, into the lovely valley below, should not have come as a complete surprise.

At least we had all those tacos inside us to add a little weight to the vehicle.

Now, 100% Ad-Free

February 20, 2014

Maybe when you read the New York Times or Wall Street Journal or The Atlantic, you might be tempted to purchase that swingy little Dolce & Gabbana number, or the season’s must-have bauble from Harry Winston featured right up front, full page and in full, luminous color.

Instead you are here, aren’t you? Looking for a cheap laugh. I can handle it: When it comes to literary legitimacy, Impressions of a Shop Boy is that section of the paper where you place the massage parlor ads.

Which is why Shop Boy was so struck the other day to call up one of his blog entries only to find an ad for a legitimate enterprise, a name brand, tacked onto the end. The kind of (you would think) classy enterprise that (you would think) would be scandalized to find itself a sponsor of my kind of humor. You might have seen it, too.

I felt badly for the advertiser. Then Shop Boy checked it out. The host of this blog has been giving me the space for free — knowing that I’ll get friends to sign up too — but is always subtly (until recently) suggesting that I upgrade to a premium (read: paid) service that’ll give me 200 billiom megabytes of storage and blah, blah, blah. Why would I need that? It’s a dumb blog … bunch of words, mostly. Even as wordy as he can be, how much space could Shop Boy take up? Besides, “if you can get the milk for free, why buy the cow?” and all that.

Well, apparently, the site got tired of Shop Boy’s freeloading and started placing ads with my posts as a way of shaming me into paying up. “People think I’m making money off this?” That’s rich. But it worked, didn’t it? The ads are gone. So is Shop Boy’s allowance.

As a Pandora user, Shop Boy should have seen this coming. You know how that one works: The “free” service slips in advertisements suggesting you upgrade away from it to a commercial-free version, then begins playing the most teeth-grindingly chipper ads you can imagine, and repeating them, closer and closer together — and interrupting a run of, say, Metallica-Megadeth-Maiden-Motorhead — until you are desperate for the premium (read: paid) service just to make the ads stop and let the music play.

And then they’ve got you. Me too. Shop Boy can’t be bought. (And he sure ain’t recommended by 4 out of 5 doctors.) Blackmailed? Eh.

Today’s Forecast Calls for Blue Skies

February 9, 2014

Sometimes I’m thinking we only survive February because we know pitchers and catchers report this month. Green grass, the slap of a baseball against leather, tender hamstrings. Oh, and “Mr. Blue Sky.”

People laugh at my love of this song. Mary especially. I’ve long said that, had I been a big-league closer, I’d have exploded through the bullpen doors and charged to the mound to something thrilling, like “Gel” by Collective Soul or angry, like “Feuer Frei! by Rammstein. Maybe dark, like “Mother” by Danzig.

All cool.

Were I the dude who picked the seventh-inning stretch music, however, it’d be “Mr. Blue Sky,” every night. I love this song.

Shop Boy’s studio neighbors? I wonder.

Is the falsetto that pours out of me, that I hear in my ears, and that feels so in tune, genuinely so?

True story: In high school, Shop Boy worked in a chalk factory, as he surely has mentioned. It was ridiculously hard labor, dangerous, and we looked for moments of drudgery-busting wherever we could find them. Such as when, say, “What a Fool Believes” by the Doobie Brothers came on the radio. Or worse, when “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” by Leo Sayer came on.

Danny was all Southern rock (Dixie Dregs/Charlie Daniels Band … with a weird kink of Lou Rawls’ “Lady Love”); Shop Boy was Kiss, Aerosmith, Ted Nugent and anything else “hard and fast.”

For argument’s sake, let’s just put it out there: Shop Boy could do falsetto — particularly a mocking falsetto, like few other 18-year-old men-to-be. Thus, mocking Leo Sayer was right up my alley. OK, so … we’d spent all morning and most of the afternoon packing chalk into boxes, onto a pallet stacked almost to the ceiling. We were beaten to a pulp, Danny O’Hara and me. Suddenly… “You’ve got a cute way of talkin’ ” … and it was ON!

Shop Boy hopped to the top of the stack of boxes and, from the rafters, started belting — OK, falsetto-ing — the song (brainworm alert)…

“You’ve got a cute way of talkin’
You get the better of me
Just snap your fingers and I’m walkin’
Like a dog, hanging on your lead …”

Shop Boy was killing it! At the top of his lungs.

Naturally, the boss walked in. Figured he’d choose today to show up. Let me tell you, now, about Mr. Matthews. Penn State Law. Straight-laced fellow. Frivolity-free.

Have I mentioned that Shop Boy was, at this point, shirtless? Perhaps I should.

“Quarter to 4 in the mornin’
Ain’t feelin’ tired, no, no, no, no, no …”

The eye contact was priceless. Imagine what this dude saw. Half-naked employee, 12 feet off the ground, screaming a Leo Sayer song.

He was ice: “Don’t break the chalk, boys.”

Then he turned on his heel and was GONE.

Did we wet our pants? It’s a wonder the chalk survived. Shop Boy remembers the coolness of the concrete on his face as he collapsed, convulsing from laughter, the lung-busting combination of chalk dust and sawdust soon driving me to stand up and run for the “fresh air” of the loading dock.

“Mr. Blue Sky”? Ahem. Shop Boy is 52 this month. Yet, some nights, when the three-phase converter is humming, and the atmospheric conditions are just right, old Shop Boy airs it out. Unrequested. The hours I’m at the shop, having worked a regular full-time gig at the JHU School of Nursing, tend to be late and lonely. Maybe no one hears at all.

That’s probably for the best. Either they’d tell me it sounded OK, and I’d be emboldened to sing even more loudly, perhaps during those rare regular business hours. Or they’d tell me I stink; that what I hear as OK in my own ears ain’t necessarily so.

February’s a cruel enough month already, you know?

Out of Nowhere

January 23, 2014

OK, so that last post might have been a bit out of context, if you follow this blog.

My apologies to the three of you who do. My aim, actually, was to make that blog entry one for the Hopkins School of Nursing website. But it was so all-about-me that it felt more appropriate here, where it’s all Shop Boy all — or most — of the time.

Not that the School of Nursing’s blog page isn’t — sometimes.

OK, a lot.

Too often?

Shop Boy is not above tooting his own horn anywhere he’s allowed to publish.

Hope you’ll take a look. It’s a challenging gig, but the school’s a great place to be. I don’t know … I was thinking maybe Shop Boy was dead. To think that nurses might have helped resuscitate him/me is sort of funny.

To me, anyway.

The Face of Nursing?

January 20, 2014

Makeup: check.

Lip gloss: check.

Eyelash curler: check.

All that’s missing is a whole mess of brains and education.

What you’re about to witness here is the result of my “faculty” photo shoot at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing (Shop Boy’s fairly new non-letterpress pursuit). There was an open slot in the day’s schedule because one of the best in the business of nursing education suddenly had to travel somewhere to take charge of some amazing project or another. A photographer and a makeup artist (she of the overactive eyelash curler) were suddenly at loose ends. What to do? Kelley Carpenter here in Marketing and Communications at the Hopkins School of Nursing, who was coordinating it all, could rearrange the impossibly complex schedules of an entire faculty to fill the opening. Or, she could punt.

steve_JHU3419_steve st

Fair catch?

Hardly.

Kelley looked around and, with the clock running, suggested — cheerily — that perhaps we ought to have an image of the nursing magazine’s editor — that’s Shop Boy — on hand. I wondered why anyone would want that. I’m not a nurse, just someone trying to translate for a wider audience what, ahem, the best in the business at nursing education and nursing care do for the world.

“For … for …. um … just in case … uh …,” she explained.

“I’m here for my obituary photo,” I informed Will Kirk, a really neat guy and talented shooter who we use a lot for Johns Hopkins Nursing magazine and whenever, wherever something school-related is happening. Anyway, Will works hard at his job. But he’s had few challenges such as this: Make me look good. At least until they have an “ugly” preset button on the camera, this means work.

(Don’t you just bet that professional photographers like Will want to bop us all on the noggin for whining about “terrible” pictures of ourselves? Camera + your face + click = you. Sure, that’s easy for a guy to say. We age so gracefu … um, I mean, uh … OK, we kinda get a free pass. Whatever.)

A while back, we did a feature in the Johns Hopkins Nursing magazine about Global Heroes here at the school, with full-page photos of each chosen subject. One complaint heard was about the bags under several of the heroes’ eyes. Couldn’t we airbrush those away? We could, but then — Shop Boy suggested helpfully — you’re missing out on a great potential motto:

The Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing: We NEVER Sleep!

You should have heard the groans.

So, in a flash — or 50 — Will’s work was done.

Remember that one time at the DMV? The license photo where you took 20 minutes to fix your hair and then, just to mess with you, the bored DMV person — I swear — asked a question in a Tamil dialect and, unless you happened to be of Tamil descent, you went “Whaaa-aaaaaa?” and she snapped the picture of your confused, contorted mug. Welcome to the next six years of your personal ID, not that you use THAT for anything.

Well, Will spoke slowly and clearly, so this one’s on me. The face, I mean.

Apparently, this is the face that I present to folks here at the school. What I hope it tells people is that although it might go blank on occasion as the acronyms fly — and do they ever — it is the face of someone who wants to learn, and share, cool stuff about Hopkins Nursing. Is it the face I prefer to wear? Nah, but people wouldn’t recognize that dashing young fellow as me when I showed up in person, so this face is stuck with me.

Actually not so bad, considering the subject. The repeatedly broken nose of a fellow always more smashing than dashing on an athletic field was a bit ajar that morning, but it’s looked worse.

I’d hoped that the image would portray me as a man of letters, a man of some heft.

Hefty: Check.

Letters: Check. I have been told I’m pretty good at the ABCs, so at least there’s that.

And nice lashes, am I right?

What Goes Around Comes Around

May 24, 2013

A previous post reminded me of something.

So, our success at using the 8×10 C&P from Mr. Wilhelm and then a bigger one to build something of a letterpress printing business convinced us (Mary) that we were ready to add the clamshell power, speed and registration accuracy of a windmill press. She’d let herself be talked into buying persuaded Vince Pullara II of InterCity Press to sell us a Heidelberg that he no longer needed as he expanded the offset side of his printing business. Honestly, we’ve never regretted that purchase.

(Aside from the day Shop Boy locked the windmill up — too much packing — and thought he’d killed it, but I still don’t want to talk about that.)

Anyhow, Mary was looking through the old scraps of paper from Mr. Wilhelm’s files one day – we took everything, not knowing what it was but figuring we might need it someday – and came across the receipt from his purchase of the 8×10. It was signed by a Vince Pullara who, having built something of a letterpress business with it and others, had decided he need the clamshell power, speed and registration accuracy of a windmill.

I’ve stopped believing this stuff is random.

Door Prize

February 13, 2013
 
My chair came in first.
 
Then a bunch of others arrived and stole all the medals.
 
Serves Shop Boy right for getting his hopes up. See, I’m in a new job at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, and kind of looking for ways to impress my colleagues. (Mary’s unimpressed by my lack of presence in the printshop, especially at lunchtime, but that’s a tale for another time.)
 
So right around Christmas, there was this contest for departments at the school. Whichever team created the coolest door decorations got a prize. Fun, right? We brainstormed, and Shop Boy threw out an idea: Every snowflake is different; so’s every QR code. What if you did snowflakes of QR codes that summoned fun things about how Christmas is celebrated around the world. (They’re very “global” here in East Baltimore.) We’ve got five doors and, thus, five displays. We did the teamwork thing, and improved the idea on the fly and … won. We got free breakfast sandwiches a couple of mornings. Hooray for the new guy, right?
 
OK, so even as all that was going on, we’d gotten involved in another contest: Whichever team can take a surplus chair from the cafeteria and turn it into something magical that can be auctioned off for a scholarship fund wins. Any ideas? New guy?
 
“Well,” the new guy says, “the chair has a cross carved into the back (that’s the symbol of Hopkins nursing). It looks kinda like the X on a ‘you are here’ map. What if we put everywhere the School of Nursing is in the world on the chair and say something like, ‘You are here. So is the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing.’ “
 
The concept was for Shop Boy to sand the chair, then the team to paint it. But you know how that goes. Many, many breakfasts had passed before I even got a chance to sand it, and now everybody was busy or had lost interest. The new guy had gotten us into this, and I guessed that the new guy was going to get us out of it.
 
Shop Boy won’t lie. What followed was fun. A ton of work, and pressure. Self-inflicted, but presure nonetheless.
 
And on the appointed deadline day, I dutifully and carefully set the chair inside the car and drove it to work. My knees were shaking with excitement as I dropped it off at the Student House. I was proud of the chair, thrilled to have made the deadline and relieved to not have dropped, dented or otherwise wrecked it on the way over. OK, I’m a little obsessive about deadlines. But I’d said it would be done and, by gum, there it was.

 
It looked good, all alone in that room.
 
stevechair
 
The guy leading the contest said a few others were expected to trickle in over the next few days, but my chair looked like a solid entry.
 
Then a few others trickled in over the next few days.
 
Including this one:
 
duck
 
What the … duck?
 
It’s an inside joke: A “Duck Point” is something students should assume would be on the next exam. Whatever, big yellow duck on a red background vs. a chair with all these nations so painstakingly drawn by hand. Chile, “the world’s backbone,” along the spine of the chair. Australia “down under” the chair. Cool, right?
 
row
 
Voting commenced, and it was apparently a landslide. My artist’s statement didn’t sway anyone:
 

The idea for the chair came during a brainstorming session at our weekly meeting. It sounded like a cool way to make a point that the sun never sets on the JHUSON. The nations were drawn free-hand, with an iPhone in one hand (Google search: “outline map of Thailand”) and pencil in the other. My sincere apologies for any Atlantis moments, a slip of the pencil lopping off 100 square miles of land here and there. The lettering’s meant to look stenciled/spray-painted as though on the side of a random military crate or CARE package shipped to the ends of the Earth. 

Blah, blah, blah. 

You are here. So is a duck.
 
Duck wins.
 
I’m not bitter.

It’s What’s Inside That Counts

January 28, 2013

Artifact 1

It was an idea whose time had come. Right now, in fact. The muslin bags had arrived a few hours earlier in a bit of a heap, the delivery box a dented mess. But they’d been protected from the elements at least by a thick, clear plastic bag. Shop Boy could see that the bags needed some serious ironing, but there was little time for that.

These little beige bags, about 5 inches by 8 inches when flat, with a cute little orange string tie sewn into the top seam, were to be the wrapper for a line of goods – jams, roasted peppers and such – for The Gift Wall at Artifact, a caffeine-fueled offshoot of Woodberry Kitchen. You can’t miss it … it’s right next door to the big Pepsi billboard off I-83. Now serving dinner, prix fixe, different theme every week. Unbelievable. Can’t get in to Woodberry Kitchen? Artifact is a very worthy fallback. Just go. Now. OK, finish this first. But then go.

Mary, of course, designed the paper goods for the place, using “artifacts” from a previous generation of letterpress to add an odd charm. Many of these came from “Mr. Wilhelm’s Shop.” This was the Timonium basement operation left idle, but never dusty, by the widow (Earcell Wilhelm) of an industrious hobbyist. Some years after his death, she needed to move and put the contents of the shop up for sale, everything-must-go style. We jumped at it, and what is now known as Typecast Press was born.

Strange and wonderful scraps from his life of printing have become bits of loopy eye candy on the Artifact menu and coffee-cup wrappers. Very fun.

Anyhow, Artifact sells great stuff made over at Woodberry Kitchen in small packages, like muslin bags. So Mary decided we should go ahead and print the Tuscan O that is Woodberry’s logo on each muslin bag.

We’d done similar jobs, so Shop Boy knew what this meant. The first problem is corraling the drawstring so that it doesn’t flop down into the printing area and get itself inked, thus wrecking the bag, or slip behind the printing area and cause a seam in the logo, thus … wrecking the bag. Not so bad. I simply had to brush the string to the side of the tympan as I fed each one. An elastic band I’d put over the tympan bales helped there, stopping the bags from sagging and also keeping the sticky black ink from pulling the occasional freshly printed one into the maw of the press … wrecking the bag. (Full-bleed coasters, ones inked all the way across, do that sometimes, because an elastic band can’t touch any part of its surface.)

Finally, this would require some tomfoolery with the impression lever. Sometimes you can overcome inking issues by bashing the gooey stuff into an object. And the big C&P can really bring it. But Shop Boy saves that for “last resorts.” This was merely a crisis. DEFCON 5, as it were.

Teachable moment: Many people use the whole DEFCON thing improperly, assuming that a higher numeral means a higher probability of nuclear war. Rather, think “Countdown to launch.” DEFCON 1’s actually the really, really, really bad one, if any escalation toward mutual annihilation can be called less than really, really, really bad. DEFCON 5 is a moment for deep concern and reflecting. DEFCON 1 is a moment for deep doo-doo and genuflecting.

Ahem.

Shop Boy also didn’t want to hit the bags too hard because the material is porous. You don’t want the image to “ghost” on the other side. On that note, I had to account for an unexpected layer of packing — a little sheet of acetate would need to be slipped into each bag to keep the ink from going through no matter how soft or hard I hit it. That meant cutting 25 little sheets, inserting them, printing 25 bags, pulling the sheets out, inserting them into new bags and printing 25 more. Repeat, repeat repeat.

Foo.

OK, so now came the experimenting. Another way to overcome light inking is to hit it twice, or to “trip” once to get a little extra ink on the plate and then hit it once. Sometimes it takes a little more. Here was my dance: Insert bag into guide, throw lever into trip mode for two passes, throw lever into print mode for three passes. Remove printed bag, put new one into guides, throw lever into trip mode, etc.

Now, normally Shop Boy is pretty good at counting to three. But you get the big press going and start dealing with flopping strings, wrinkles in bags, elastic bands, acetate sheets and, well, you’d better have some extras on hand. Because hitting a cloth bag three times in exactly the same spot is tricky under the best circumstances. Pull one out after only two hits and there’s just no stinking way to put it back in for the third … wrecking the bag.

You get the idea. Printing can be annoying sometimes. But you should see the bags.

In fact, go take a look at Artifact. Seriously, we’re finished here. Go.

OK, here they are:

bags

Now go. I mean it.

Short on Time, and Cheer

December 19, 2012
elf2
One day, the company nurse was simply gone, laid off and replaced by the penny-pinching Scrooges in management with … a glass-encased defibrilator. It looked for all the world like a vending machine.
“What if I have a heart attack and don’t have 50 cents?” Shop Boy asked a colleague, only half-kidding.
“Or what if I fall down over there and the cord doesn’t reach? Do you promise to carry me to the hallway?”
He did not.
I was thinking about this late the other night in connection with Santa’s elves.
Not that Mary would ever let Shop Boy listen to holiday music while she’s nearby. And when she’s rushing around like she has been, I don’t push it. But earlier, I’d gone to make a polymer plate in another part of the studio and switched my Pandora account to Holiday Favorites or whatever. The first thing that popped on was an orchestral overture to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. You know, little snippets of all the songs blended together to give you a hint of what’s coming.
Call Shop Boy a sap, but one of the things that struck me — even through the panic of knowing Mary needed the plate NOW — was that every stinking song on that soundtrack is a classic. Brilliant, moving.
Just that quick, I was up to my elbows in polymer-scented rinse water and awash in nostalgia.
And I thought, “I wonder if any of Santa’s elves ever had a heart attack on the job while racing toward the Christmas Eve “drop-dead” due date for the toys?
(In newspapers, when asking for the “real” deadline for a story vs. when the editor [me] would prefer to have it in hand, reporters were in the habit of asking, “So, what’s the drop-dead on that?” They wanted to know how many minutes and seconds they could stall before I’d walk over to their desks and tell them, “Your story is no longer required or desired: Drop dead!”)
Don’t know if you’ve seen old Shop Boy around lately. But a new (awesome) desk job and too much potential exercise time spent instead catching up at Typecast Press have left a bit of a belly that, yes, shakes when I laugh, like a bowl full of jelly.
OK, OK, there’s an extra cookie or tw…elve in that “to blame” file as well. Picky, picky. Who ever heard of a skinny Shop Boy?
(That’s paraphrasing Rudolph — Mrs. Clause telling a stressed-out Santa he has to eat something.)
The point is, it’s been a little stressful, and adding “pre-holiday mode” hasn’t helped. So I was taking a mental timeout, just sorta thinking what kind of Elf health plan Santa’s got at his shop.
I mean, surely a few of the elves are huddled right at this very minute outside the toy factory’s front door, fresh snow covering for the moment an ugly sidewalk full of discarded cigarette butts. They’re huffing and puffing about their names ending up in the wrong column of the Naughty & Nice list, about the reindeer constantly flying over and pooping on their windshields (and then it freezes!), about the company 401k, about Tim Tebow getting dissed by the Jets. (It’s Christ-mas, after all.) And the Angels! What on earth are they thinking, paying Josh Hamilton all those millions to play baseball? With his bad habits!?!
Mostly, they’re just blowing smoke, stressed about being so stressed. So close to finished, so close to putting their feet up, so close to a cocktail at Clarisse’s Tavern and … so close to taking a goddamn hammer and
Surely, one of them has simply keeled over on occasion.
Right?
Oops. That’d be Mary calling. Sounds stressed. Better put Pandora back on the Dirge and Drudgery station. It’s going to be another long winter’s night.
Happy Holidays, everybody! Hope to see you there.

Once More From the Top

November 29, 2012
Not to be melodramatic, but Shop Boy’s very existence is at risk.
Honest.
You might have noticed the dramatic falloff in the number of posts here (or maybe you haven’t missed them — hmmph!). Part of that’s natural. This blog started as a chronicle of the funny, nutty stuff that just happens when you’re starting a business on a whim. Especially a business that can be so emotionally and physically challenging. So, we laughed (or tried to) and learned here at Typecast Press. We’ve been doing this letterpress thing a little while now, though, and most of the ridiculous gaffes that so often took our legs out from under us in the first couple of years have stopped cropping up. Mostly.
(Ever lock up a Heidelberg windmill? Shop Boy now has. In the dumbest way imaginable. I’m not the religious sort — if you are, that’s cool — but I’ll tell you that Shop Boy was praying that he hadn’t cracked the impression collar, once I was through praying that we could even get the darn thing open ever again. Prayers answered: Impression collar intact, impression bar unbent, Shop Boy … recovering.)
Anyway, Mary’s been so distracted with saving the world — of Globe Posterat MICA — that Shop Boy has been spending an awful lot of time alone in the printshop. This, normally, would be a recipe for disaster. Instead, I’ve had to learn more than I ever thought I’d want to about printing. Now, don’t get crazy — this isn’t my printshop. Mary handles ALL of the design, ordering and finances of the place, as well as the fine printing jobs. And when the look of the place gets a bit too, um, “Shop Boy,” Mary lays down the law and “her way” is restored.
Let’s just say instead that Shop Boy’s role has moved past simply carting heavy stuff from here to there and standing in front of a press hand-feeding all day long.
Shop Boy has to be responsible. I can’t just laugh off a Keystone Kops mistake and run to the computer to tell the funny story of how it went down. Now I have to “own” it, as Mary likes to say I don’t do well enough, and fix it.
But I’d like to fix this blog, too. The lack of new stuff, you know? So here we go. I’m back. Not with a bang but a whimper — like the eerily un-loud sound of a Heidelberg locking up. Those you who still check in on occasion for my updates, thank you.
I’ll be back at you soon. Promise.

Getting Bombed: Salutations from 1812

September 7, 2012

You really ought to hear Shop Boy’s rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner.” Seriously. I’ve never been asked to perform at, say, a baseball game. Or a football game or … OK, anywhere. Your loss. But I’ve done it (very, very late at night) in my Baltimore kitchen. And let me tell you, when the song/poem hits that third stanza, the one not too many folks know about, you want a Marilyn Manson fan like Shop Boy behind the microphone. Me bringing the pain … you appreciating hurting. Dogs barking. Police summoned. The performances are understandably as rare as they are surely breathtaking.

Let’s set the stage anyway.

There’s a dude stuck on a boat on the Patapsco River, hard by Baltimore, Md. He can’t use his cell phone to call for help or text his friends to let him know where he is and when he’ll be back.

Mostly because it’s 1814. September 13, to be exact.

And he’s kind of a captive.

See, the British weren’t quite as squishy back then, and they were kind of bugged by all the smug posturing of a newly independent nation such as the U. S. of A. And they were honestly still a little raw over the idea that a ragtag bunch of militias had defeated them 30 years or so before in the Revolutionary War and had the gall to set up a legit government and ports that could compete (by hook or by crook) with London’s traders. So, they sailed a fleet across the Atlantic Ocean to smack us up.

Anyhow, our captive’s a part-time poet, name of Francis Scott Key. In the middle of all this War of 1812 mess, he’d gone with a team of ambassadors to meet with the British navy to negotiate freedom for political prisoners. Alas, once he’d stepped on deck, looked around and seen the size of the British fleet anchored just off America’s shores, and accidentally heard a little bit too much, he couldn’t simply be sent home to let the locals know an attack was imminent, now could he?

So the supremely confident British figured, while they’ve got Key and his boys there, why not toast the Americans’ crumpets just a bit, forcing them to watch the bombardment into submission or death of their brave countrymen at Fort McHenry.

Umm …

Fort McHenry’s cool, if you’ve never been there. Kind of a star-shaped set of fortress walls, lots of grass, ancient cannons for kids to climb on and what look like they must have been cramped and cold quarters. They make you sit through a movie before you can see the grounds, but it’s informative and (all right, all right) stirring. Patriotism aroused, or not, it’s totally awesome once you get to walk about. The cell where they locked up the traitorous, South-leaning Baltimore mayor during the Civil War? I get a TB cough just thinking about it. Today, the cannons point out mostly toward industrial loading docks. But in 1814, the fort was the last line of defense for the City of Baltimore and, in British minds, America itself. Washington, D.C., had been whipped. Kill Baltimore and the annoying “don’t tread on me” snake was snuffed too. And the Redcoats were on the right track there. There’s an interactive map of the British plans, by both land and sea — along with the strokes of luck and genius that stopped them — that will scare the stars and stripes out of you. I mean, if you were, like, rooting for the Yanks. British visitors might find their day dampened at the prospect of what might so easily have been.

OK, so Francis Scott Key is stuck inconveniently if not uncomfortably on a British boat as part of a gentlemen’s agreement — today they’d cut off his head and send the videotape to his peeps — and experiences from afar a terror, torment and, ultimately, a triumph that will lead to a poem, and a national anthem.

The first stanza is all (warranted) apprehension over the fort’s fate. Look, the Americans were outgunned big time. No, “big time” doesn’t cover it. The British were loaded for bear, fully prepared with more modern, potent guns to shell the ever-loving hell out of Fort McHenry and its comparatively tiny battalion of defenders. Meanwhile, the British gunboats could park just yards (or what would be known today as “meters” if they’d succeeded) beyond the reach of the American cannons and fire at will.

O! say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming,
And the Rockets red glare, the Bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our Flag was still there:
O! Say, does that star-spangled Banner yet wave,
O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?

Well, as the night goes on — and the British shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot, and the fort stands — Key gets more confident himself.

On the shore, dimly seen, through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence repose,
What is that, which the breeze o’er the towering sleep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines on the stream,
‘Tis the star-spangled banner. O! long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Then, dare we say, lippy?

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Don’t go there? Yes he did. He gets all Marilyn Manson, Body Count, “we’re gonna Dougie on your dead.” The trash talking is a bit much, to be honest. But, big American finish …

O, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand,
Between their lov’d homes and the war’s desolation;
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the heav’n-rescued land
Praise the Pow’r that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our Trust”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

(Probably best that the national anthem as it’s traditionally performed today stops just as Key is getting warm.)

So here we stand, two-plus centuries down the road in this crazy experiment we loosely call democracy. Say what you will about American missteps, and they have been and continue to be legion, but your mom and dad were basically right that you were lucky to be born in this nation. What’s not so good? We’re working on it.

Anyway …

Nolen Strals and Bruce Willen, two-thirds of the late, great rant-rock band Double Dagger and 100 percent of the superstar graphic design firm Post Typography (they’re MICA faculty, to boot), began talking with Mary about a really star-studded idea for the bicentennial of the War of 1812. The guys are creating artworks for an exhibit at the Windup Space, a hangout on Baltimore’s slowly gentrifying North Avenue just perfect for such things, and they’d like to use — ahem — wooden type from the Globe Poster Collection at MICA to create original prints for it. Show runs September 8 through October 27.

She’s in. Partly because it’s an awesome idea, to set the first stanza (good call) of the “Star-Spangled Banner” as a four-panel, stream-of-consciousness love poem to Key, to 1812, to Baltimore, to wit, to graphic design and, yes, to Globe. (The wood type is in, too, looking for all the years of hard, magical poster making as though it might have been at Fort McHenry that crazy night, wearing its scars just as proudly.) And Nolen and Bruce, who’ve got some letterpress experience, are up for doing the physical labor if Mary’ll be their sherpa.

Seeing as Mary also has an entire Pandora Radio channel dedicated to Double Dagger (groupie!), it should come as little surprise that she agreed. Any money that Globe and MICA would receive for her efforts was an afterthought. (Shh! Don’t tell the guys!)

If you’ve not worked with older wood type or long forms of hand-set prose, then the amount of labor and the number of hours it takes to produce such a project would likely amaze or intimidate you. But Bruce and Nolen had a clear vision of what they wanted the panels to look like, and they loved the idea that not all the Globe type is in the same physical shape. So, if the perfect E for the line had an “arm” that wasn’t quite type-high anymore, they eagerly set to work on make-ready, painstakingly building up a corner here and there using bits torn from the whisper-thin pages of a phone book. (Phone book … talk about your 19th-century concepts.) And the kerning (spacing between the letters) was just as big a job. Might even say the hours and hours they shot and shot and shot and shot and shot at the 1812 project show a distinct lack of sanity. Very rock-and-roll, though.

The prints they made? I won’t blow the surprise to bits, but they’re bloody brilliant. And available, on a limited basis. But come see for yourself.

If you’re not stuck on a boat somewhere, get over to the opening on the eighth — that’s Saturday night! — for a look at these prints and other cool stuff Bruce and Nolen have created. Mary and Shop Boy will be aboard. I probably won’t be asked to sing the “Star-Spangled Banner” there, either. But I might hum a few bars if you ask nicely. Or just tell you the wet-your-pants story of Mary and Shop Boy loudly trading ideas at 3 a.m. on where the inflection should come on the fourth line of the third stanza.

Our final answer: Wherever you want.

It’s a free country.

I Have Trouble Finding the Words

April 3, 2012

Mary was sitting up in bed way too late … or was it way too early … it all runs together sometimes, when a vocabulary lesson broke out. Apparently, by not standing up, screaming “no, no, no!,” lighting myself on fire and running away down the street in the altogether, I had given my “tacit” approval to participate in a project.

By tacit, she meant that because I remained three-quarters asleep and unable to communicate my disapproval, my approval could be “assumed.” Like she had the “power of attorney” or something simply because Shop Boy was what in some states would be legally declared “comatose.”

Well, Shop Boy could huff and puff till he was blue in the face, but Mary had me by the dictionary.

(OK, that was a dirty little pun, but by making me do this with no advance notice and then by not watching Shop Boy’s every keystroke, Mary has tacitly given her permission for me to throw off the shackles of good taste and manners. And that’s enough of that.)

So here goes:

Andy Snair is a Baltimore illustrator and jolly good friend of Typecast Press. Inspired by wood type in our type cabinet one day, he asked if it’d be cool if he printed the letters and put charming or funny mugs on them, creating “Type Faces.” A, O and K by us!

Well, when Mary was asked recently to “sub-curate” an art show at a gallery called Case[werks] here in Baltimore, and bring along the work of artists we’ve been inspired by or loved collaborating with, Andy Snair was in. (Yup, there’d be Globe Poster stuff too, the old and the new that Mary and Bob Cicero have worked to get created as letterpress teachers at the Maryland Institute College of Art. And Glenn Dellon’s 2011 calendar — too good for that year, if you ask Shop Boy. Cool stuff, all. You’ll see.)

Andy’s an idea guy, so when Mary informed him a week before the show that he, too, had granted tacit approval for inclusion in the show (and all the last-minute work that this entailed), Shop Boy could just about see Andy’s brain gears start turning. Mary wanted him to mount the individual letter cards on wooden bases, then carefully paint the bases’ sides to match the colors we’d printed the letters. (He’d done a few a while back … they’re awesome. But the whole alphabet? In a week? The boy’s got a job.)

Unless he could come up with something better, of course.

We knew he would.

And so Shop Boy is here to tell you that a “reglet” is a very thin piece of hard wood used as spacing between images, letters or lines of type in a backward-reading “form” to be printed.

You need to know this because you have seen or will soon see Andy’s “word search” puzzle at Case[werks] — that’s him and part of it above — as well as the little sheet that Mary has printed for you to keep score on. (You weren’t just about to write on the actual art, were you?) If you can find them all, you get one of Andy’s letters for free! Anyway, on that score sheet, Mary had printed instructions on where to find more information about the words in the puzzle. (Ahem, on a blog that we’d need written by … oh, how’s your afternoon lookin’, Shop Boy?)

You’ve got “reglet” already, right? Oh, come on. I can’t tell you where it is. But I can tell you that it might read backwards, diagonally, vertically, or be staring you right straight in the face. Then again, all of Andy’s letters are doing that, aren’t they?

Shop Boy’ll give you a hint: A “quoin” is a metal device that expands with the turn of a quoin “key” to lock “type” and “reglets” in place. “Hamilton” is a famed old Wisconsin maker of wood type like the stuff that inspired Andy (a “Gothic” face) … and Globe Poster for that matter. A “Vandercook,” as you surely know, is a “proof” press, used back in the day to give a printer a chance to look for any errors on a “proof” of an individual page before the whole book or newspaper was transferred to the big press, whereupon finding an error would create hardship, heartbreak and significant cost (perhaps even one’s job). Nowadays, a Vandercook is the press of choice for book artists, designers, and poster printers who all relish the fine work it never got full credit for in its previous life.  The “tympan” is a coated paper that holds the packing in place and thus controls how much pressure is placed on the “form” to create the depth of the impression. The tympan is also famous for its annoying habit of getting in the way, picking up an unintended “ink” smear, and then — ooh! — marking the back of 15 or so sheets of paper before the printer realizes there’s a problem with “offset” (which we didn’t have room for in the puzzle).

Those are hints about what they are, not where they are in the puzzle. Hey, Shop Boy’s not going to find them for you. But you have my tacit approval to look as long as you like.

Old Enough to Know Better

February 9, 2012

When Shop Boy was a young lad of, say, 20, he worked Sundays in a Glen Rock, N.J., delicatessen called Wilkes’ that catered to … every single person in New Jersey, it seemed sometimes. On football Sundays when either the Giants or the Jets were playing at the Meadowlands — the football teams rotated, as they do now in a new stadium built for both — the line was out the door all morning. Tailgater after tailgater after tailgater after tailgater needed morning egg and cheese sandwiches to hold them while they sat in game-day traffic. They needed it on rye, they needed it hot, they needed it, like, right now. It was already stop-and-go on the turnpike. And gimme a large coffee, light and sweet. (Good call … we made really lousy coffee.)

And without fail, right in the middle of the endless line was someone who wanted a mere quarter-pound of deli roast beef, sliced thin, from the rarest part of the hunk, for lunches they’d bring from home to eat at their desks during their work week. Poor things … meaning Shop Boy and Robert, the other guy who worked the Sunday shift. Robert was the veteran. Taught Shop Boy the ropes. He was lightning on the eggs, whether frying them up on the stove or stirring them into a styrofoam cup and sticking them into the microwave. Robert, thus, handled the egg sandwiches; Shop Boy handled as much of the rest as he could. It was a great arrangement. You wanted me on that slicer. You needed me on that slicer. As quick as Robert was on the eggs … turn Shop Boy loose on the slicer.

Then the roast beef order brought down the whole house of cards.

Now, if you’ve ever worked in a delicatessen, you know that there are meats that were meant to be sliced. Salami, say. Hard salami … yeah. Shop Boy could absolutely fly through an order, handing you a beautifully sliced, beautifully stacked, beautifully wrapped paper package of that stuff, at exactly the weight count requested. Boiled ham … you bet. Turkey … no problem, boss. Head cheese — oh, man … yuck, I mean, Coming right up! But roast beef was, quite literally, a different animal.

Those other meats cut into a solid sheet, mostly. Roast beef didn’t want to do that. And the more moist and tender the section of the hunk, the less it wanted to conform into anything that could be easily stacked, wrapped and dropped into a paper bag.

So if Shop Boy was the Leonardo da Vinci of the salami, he was more like the Jackson Pollock of the roast beef. A blood-splattered mess. Robert tended to have a bit more success, being a seasoned deli guy, but even he hated the roast beef. And he was on the eggs. The roast beef was all Shop Boy. Sliced thin? I gave them shards o’ beef. Oh, the moaning from the customers. And the people behind them! I’d re-do the order. Same pile of beef shrapnel. I felt horrible. Like a complete failure. Deli dodo. Meat-counter muttonhead. But what could I do?

Overcompensate, that’s what.

When that customer would at last take the package from the counter, he’d separate a shoulder as about 3 pounds of roast beef — for the price of a quarter pound — surprised him. I’d wink, and ask who was next.

They complained, right?

Baloney. They’d be back the next Sunday for their, ahem, quarter-pound of rare roast beef. Sliced thin. Wasn’t hurting the owner. We hustled a ton of product out the door and a ton of money into the till every Sunday, without fail.

Thirty years can change a lot of things. But not everything. I thought my friend Jan, who got me the job at Wilkes’ Deli, would always be around, that we were best buds. Life happens. Haven’t seen her in a decade or more. But if we ever do happen to be in the same room again, I’m sure it’ll be like those years never happened. Mary and Jan’s spouse will be, like, “Who are you people?” We’re not those best New Jersey buds, anymore, really. But of course we are, sorta, you know?

And today, as a printer, Shop Boy still on occasion has the “roast beef reflex.” If I’ve done something I’m not sure quite hit the mark, I push it so over the top that you’d never complain. Mary’s like Robert with the eggs. She’s good, man. Gifted. Dogged. Very smart and resourceful. Shop Boy’s fast, accurate, and can stack whatever Mary wants printed into beautiful rows to be packaged. But I choke on the trickier jobs. Mary’s been the lead printer for so long that she sometimes assumes that Shop Boy’s absorbed all that she has and thus has the same skill level as she does.

Then sometimes I’ll remind her not to make that assumption. Not on purpose … but neither was the roast beef, eh?

Take Jan’s 50th birthday card. You’re not 50 every day, right? Over the years, it had gone from flowers for the birthday, to phone calls for the birthday, to e-mails for the birthday to, “Hey, honest, I remembered your birthday, but Facebook was down.”

Shop Boy had an idea: I’d make — start to finish, by myself (Mary was crazy busy) — a simple but fun card with an image on the front, an image on the back, and a pithy birthday message on the inside, using wood blocks and lead type already hanging around the shop. I wanted to do it almost as much to surprise Mary with how proficient I’ve become at the Vandercook as I wanted to let Jan know that I’d remembered her well — well before her big day.

Nothing says, “I thought of you, but not until it was almost too late,” quite like a rush FedEx envelope through the mail slot on your birthday.

Anyway, part of Shop Boy’s, ahem, genius is starting way ahead. It leaves lots of time to correct for, ahem, stupid mistakes. Mary doesn’t tend to make stupid mistakes, so she’s never been in the habit of leaving too much extra time. Whatever. So a week before the appointed time by which the card needed to get to the post office, Shop Boy had already run the first color, both sides of the card. My idea was to build a form on the bed of the Vandercook SP-15 into which I could easily swap some gorgeous lead type — Stymie, Mary says it is. We’ve got four sizes of this stuff. Heavy as heck, because it’s so thick. But it prints beautifully. Shop Boy’s been getting into the lead type scene a little bit more recently, partly because it’s so easy to manipulate on a Vandercook bed vs. locking it up in a chase and carrying it carefully over to a C&P. I’ve had a chase collapse and drop a heavy metal Boxcar base … NOT on my foot but close … and I can’t even imagine … OK, yes I can … how horrible it would be to painstakingly set some poetic language in lead, space it all out just so, and then have it dump into a big pile on the floor, or “pie,” as they say. The flat Vandercook bed allows no such dumping.

I’d cut pieces of 110-pound Crane Lettra long enough to accommodate a 5″ x 7″ card with a fold. I did the math myself. (Foreshadowing alert!) The idea was to build a form for the first color using non-printing spacers to mimic the size of what would sub in for the second color, in this case the words in lead. I set the lead type, measured the space it would take up, blocked in the space-holders and printed the red images — bits of the old Globe Poster collection. Then I cleaned the press, put on the black ink, swapped in the lead and used spacers to mimic the area previously occupied by the Globe cuts and, voila! It looked, well, lovely. I cleaned the press again, stuck a proof in the truck to show Mary and headed home.

She loved it. Said I’d nailed the printing. Shop Boy beamed with pride.

Which comes before a fall, or so it is said.

Let it be written.

For, a day or two later (we got distracted with a project), as I used a bone folder to crease the paper, having cut it to the perfect size with an X-acto knife, Shop Boy realized that he’s not so good with numbers sometimes. Oh, the card was perfectly registered front and back, but the fold was a full, honest-to-god half-inch off.

Shop Boy was near tears. Honestly. Crushed. It was a bloody pile of worthlessness. All that effort for nothing. Mary saw the panic on my face. She had guests at the studio, but I couldn’t help letting out a little “no, no, no” from where I worked, and she came over.

Too late to reprint, and she couldn’t really afford to help. But she did have a great idea … make it even better than a simple folded card. Take each of the panels, mount them with double-stick tape on beautiful backing paper, drill holes at the top and tie it all off with a big bow of red-and-white baker’s string.

Jan gonna complain about that? Nope. She’ll give me the business once she hears the story, naturally. That’s cool. So’s the card.

Might have saved me hours and hours of work had Shop Boy thought of that right off the bat. But I’m sure Mary didn’t mind me spending all that time on a 50th birthday card for a woman from my past. Right?

Um.

Mary: “Boy, my Valentine had better be something else.”

I’m dead meat.

The Last Thing We Need

January 10, 2012

At least it has a counter.

Not a scale, mind you. Shop Boy doesn’t want to know what the thing weighs. See, Typecast Press is actually a series of four rooms. Three of them sit atop a concrete foundation. One does not. So when you’re talking — roughly — a ton, it begins to mean something, weight-wise, where you place it.

When the building manager says he half expects to see the whole shootin’ match in a pile of debris in the basement by morning, then winks, that means something too. If you said it means, “Cover your ears, cross your fingers, and load the darn thing in anyway,” well, golly, welcome to Typecast Press, Mr. or Mrs. Vandercook Universal 3.

From http://vandercookpress.info/

It’s really all Shop Boy has heard since we started acquiring TLC-needy Vandercooks some time ago. “If we can only find a Universal, we’d be set.” They’re like the Cadillacs of Vandercooks, apparently. Some of them even turn the crank and take the paper down the length of the bed for you, an idea that sort of freaks Shop Boy out even as it sends his fatigued right arm into ecstatic fits. Unfortunately, they never come onto the open market…

So the phone rings one day at the studio. Perry Tymeson, master printer and Vandercook restorer and relocator, has found a couple of presses Mary might be interested in looking at. They’re pricey by our standards, but we might be able to get a package deal. Perry knew that Mary was hoping to get a jumbo Vandercook at a good price for the Maryland Institute College of Art, new home for Globe Poster and a lot of its larger-than-life cuts. It’s awesome to have a hand-carved 26″ x 44″ wooden FBI shooting-range target plate, for instance, but a little less so if you can’t print the dang thing.

Perry had been called in by a New York City printer to help sell and move a 232 Vandercook, an absolute monster, and the Universal 3, a mere giant by comparison. He called Mary and, long story short, once the screaming subsided, the Maryland Institute College of Art owned a Vandercook that could make full use of all the poster cuts that came along with the Globe Collection … and Typecast Press had its Uni. With a counter. No small thing when your doing a run of a thousand or so. And pretty rare on a Vandercook (in Shop Boy’s admittedly rather limited experience). Oh, it’d cost us. But it was still a relatively awesome deal, and since it was the last press we’d ever need to purchase, well, who was Shop Boy to complain?

Right, Mary?

Mary?

Right?