Posts Tagged ‘Baltimore letterpress’

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.

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

 

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

Getting in on the Ground Floor

September 8, 2011

Shop Boy’s 6-foot-4 father-in-law calls him Low Boy, meaning I’m responsible — when we’re tackling a painting assignment, say — for getting the floor-hugging trim and other “low” stuff while he covers the ceilings and tops of walls.

Bob Cicero of Globe Poster has another name for me:

The Mouse.

I’m not offended (mostly). Painting the trim up to non-freakily tall people’s eye level is a reward in itself. I mean, how many people walk into your house and say, “hey, niiiiice ceilings.” If they do, they’re weirdos and it’s about time they leave, am I right? Besides, a lot of the magical stuff of Globe Poster’s past was waiting beneath something else … until Shop Boy/Low Boy/The Mouse got down on all fours and started poking and scratching around. All my crawling and digging brought some amazing stuff back into the light of day. So what can I say?

It felt a bit odd, then, that Shop Boy didn’t need to even bend at the waist to assemble the three plates that let me create … this:

In fact, I had to reach up for the black plate, which sat for years and years on a top shelf in the china/memorabilia cabinet out in Globe’s front office. Shop Boy had often admired the relief image of the snarling circus tiger but had never touched it. (Wasn’t dusty enough, I suppose.) Mary had a six-hour class to teach the next day, though, giving Shop Boy a free afternoon to play with the Globe stuff on the SP-15. Truth be told, I didn’t know much about running a Vandercook press before I took on the assignment of proofing cool cuts to be used on T-shirts to help raise money for the Globe move to the Maryland Institute College of Art and such. Mary would always set up the job, register the plates and do all the make-ready. I’d ink the press and provide the muscle to run the job and then clean everything. The system worked, but meant a lot of standing around for Shop Boy during set-up. And a bored Shop Boy is truly a printer’s devil.

Anyway, I never said I was a real printer. But it was time for me to learn my own machines. And the tiger seemed a neat place to start, with the three plates requiring adjustments for registration. Green was first, at least the plate that I’d make green, using the first tub of ink that was handy. (I’d never seen the beast in printed form, so I was winging it.) So far, so good:

Orange would be next. I’d seen tigers at the zoo, so I was pretty confident about that color. But printing the orange on top of the green just made the whole thing look like a big blob. Shop Boy soldiered on anyway. Might as well make some awful art while no one’s watching. I could learn from the project and ditch the evidence before Mary got there. Shop Boy aligned the black plate, inked up and rolled, expecting very little. Well:

What astounds Shop Boy most — still — is that the guy who hand-carved the set of wooden plates (the late Harry Knorr, in all likelihood) could have anticipated how the black plate would bring the whole image together. Also breathtaking is how a set of wooden plates, used non-gently for years, then abandoned for decades, could create such a sharp, detailed image today with very little make-ready.

And that it would be me — Shop Boy — whose skills would bring the image back to life.

But there it was. I brought a copy of the image down to Highlandtown the next day to show to Bob Cicero as a surprise. He’d been lending us stuff to proof all during the move prep and hadn’t even noticed the tiger’s absence from the shelf. Not that he’d have fretted. Mary’d left him a note:

“The Mouse Is Proofing Your Cat.”

The Devil Is in the Details Book

July 14, 2011

Look, Mary once got paper made of rocks or something to feed through a copying machine in her position at the Colorado Endowment for the Humanities. If she can’t get the copier to run a job, it simply won’t run that job.

So why do the Kinko’s guys always doubt her? They should just hand her the mouse and turn her loose with the better machines — and all those printer options on the computer programs they do not understand — behind the desk. Or … they can stay late and get a lesson in printer persuasion as she leans on them till their attitude bends.

Because we weren’t going anywhere the night before a bride was coming to pick up her magnificent invitations. All that remained was copying two-sided pages for a teeny details book that would give prospective guests the lowdown on lodging, entertainment, gift registry and even the happy couple’s plans for starting their future together. Cool, right? The idea was a take on the unforgettable fold-out detail card that our pals Stacey Mink and Geoff Brown helped us create for their wedding. And it was so close to finished. Just copy the sheets of paper, cut them to size and staple them into a lovely cover.

Mary 1, Kinko’s 0.

OK, so the staples. We have an old saddle stitcher, or at least that’s what we’ve been calling it perhaps ignorantly. It’s a big old, foot-pedal-powered stapler is what it is. Rather neat-looking, we think. And rather not up to the task, our pleading and coaxing falling upon deaf cast-iron ears. What we were hoping for is to avoid the big bends that the tines of most common staples end up forming on the inside of the paper, like a big bow or something. It’d be bulky in such a little book. And Shop Boy could not convince Mary that all we needed to do was staple through the cards and insert sheets into something soft, then fold the tines down neatly one at a time. There were 200 of the the things. So? We’ve done tweakier stuff, as Shop Boy will get to in a moment.

Mary remembered suddenly a favor that she had done for the folks at Alpha Graphics, an awesome shop around the corner that regularly does negatives for our plates and, on one recent occasion, had borrowed our drill press to create nice, neat holes in some bit of stationery or other. Alpha has an automatic saddle stitcher, so quicker than you can say “calling in an owesie,” we were sitting in the pleasantly air-conditioned Alpha, Shop Boy folding the printed sheets into the cards and handing them one at a time to a wild-eyed Mary, who was just a little too into the “bang” of the contraption each time she tapped the foot pedal, if you ask me. Had “emergency room” written all over it.

But we cranked them out, noticing partway through the blue line painted along the spine of the staples. Not sure if it helps the machine’s brain line up the punch or what. But on the individual staples, and on the back of the cards, it created a blue dot.

Shop Boy (in denial mode by default): “Who’s going to notice that?”

Mary: “Everybody’s going to notice that!”

Shop Boy: “OK, you’re right. But we can just take an emery board and …”

Did I mention tweaky? Yes, I believe I did. Shop Boy and Typecast interns/friends Allison Fisher and Ingrid Schindall once spent the better part of two days buffing the cotton hickeys off the edges of separate business card orders. Thousands of cards each. See, sometimes a cutting rule will dull in one spot and tear rather than slice the cotton papers that Typecast favors. Thus, when Mary does a die-cutting job on the windmill — currently above Shop Boy’s pay grade — the air is filled with cotton puffs, the machine is filled with oil hole-clogging dander … and the edges of the cards can be left a bit rough.

Not in our store, you don’t.

Some folks use sandpaper or a similar rough surface to fix the peachfuzz effect, lining a bunch of cards up all at once. That’s good for bigger printed objects, in Shop Boy’s book, but when the fuzz gets between the cards, the sandpaper ain’t going to reach it. And so we buff.

On the blue polka-dotted staples, however, none of the above treatments worked. The emery board tended to stray from the staple and make a mess of the cotton booklet’s spine. And anyway, it didn’t get all of the blue off. So Mary handed me the dental tools. Honest to god, Shop Boy sat there with a miniature rasper — with the bride due any minute by this time — filing smooth each staple’s backside. No pressure. And if you think a slip with an emery board can chew up a cotton booklet’s spine, wait’ll you see my, um, handiwork on a couple of booklets that ended up in the sample drawer instead of the bride’s box.

Might match the unexplained nicks, gashes and grooves you find one day on the ever-recalcitrant copiers at your neighborhood Kinko’s. Mary’s tried everything else to get her money’s worth out of that joint. We’ll just call it the blue dot special.

Movie Time

July 7, 2011

OK, so these three students from the University of Baltimore decide to make their class project a film on Typecast Press. Each would do a short piece on us, documentary style.

Fun, right? For Shop Boy especially. No heavy lifting! Though I do think they could have airbrushed out the double chin and perhaps deepended my voice a bit. What are they teaching these people in film class at UB, anyway?

This, which is, ahem, more than a little charming.

That’s Josh Harless’ version. We’re still waiting on their other two, by Karen Summerville and Dean Nettles. Perhaps they will be more about Shop Boy. Honestly, the crew was marooned with me alone for an entire day of shooting when Mary was called away … and that’s it? I merely helped them work out the lighting and stuff for when Mary got back, I guess. They kept saying how great I was doing too. Sigh. Not bitter.

I’ll post the other films when I get them. (In the meantime, thanks, Josh. All kidding aside, that was a cool experience.)

By the way, I keep saying this, but Shop Boy hopes to be a more regular contributor to the blogosphere again soon. Got a million stories to tell. And that’s only the Globe Poster part!

Saved for Poster-ity

April 10, 2011

Shop Boy's take on a classic

It’s sort of like letting your screwball neighbor borrow the Hope Diamond to cut glass for a home-improvement project.

But there was Shop Boy, holding out his arms as Bob Cicero of Globe Poster piled on the priceless, hand-carved wooden plates to an old four-color rodeo poster. The original, a wonder, hangs at the front of the old Globe shop. The gesture was kind of a reward for all that Mary had done to broker the acquisition of the Globe collection by the Maryland Institute College of Art, and to commemorate the good time Shop Boy had given himself rooting through the old stacks of Globe paraphernalia in the mammoth and wacky old space in weird old Highlandtown that Globe has called home … while Mary did all that hard work.

True story: Mary and Shop Boy had this running discussion/argument the other day about which old blue-collar Baltimore neighborhood is more, um, eccentric, Typecast Press’ Hampden or Globe’s Highlandtown. Shop Boy said Hampden, where a trio of chain-smoking early teen mothers might be crossing Roland Avenue against the light, nary a glance left or right, leading with their baby strollers while a delivery truck is double-parked (next to an open parking space big enough for it and a twin) and a Brink’s truck approaches M&T Bank from the opposite direction and double parks as well, blocking the whole freaking main thoroughfare, 36th Street (“only be but a minute or two, hon”). Meanwhile, a drunk dude wanders across the intersection sipping a coffee (plus whatever was in the flask) from the RoFo, as they call the Royal Farms stores in these parts, a newcomer baffled by the “rear-in only” parking on 36th Street simply stops cold, leading stupidly impatient motorists behind him to pull over into oncoming traffic for a standoff of epically moronic proportions, a white dude dressed like a gangster thug in a music video and holding a crazed pit bull (on way too flimsy a leash) hawks drugs, a hooker drags herself home from a trick and a cop eats a pizza and cools his heels. Wait, is that an ambulance siren?

“OK, you win,” Shop Boy admitted as we fought our way past an even nuttier scene in Highlandtown. “Jesus God!” as Bob Cicero is prone to exclaim. That place is a piece of work.

But back to Globe and MICA. Now, Mary is a persuasive person, to which we must now add “legendarily,” as in:

“Jesus God, how do you argue with that?

Since the acquisition is as official as these things get with lawyers still present, let Shop Boy tell you a little bit about how it went down.

Mary heard that Globe was about to shutter its operations and needed to sell off its stuff, mainly hundreds of drawers of beautiful wood type, great old “cuts” — the metal-on-wood blocks that became the circus and carnival figures, the go-go girls, the R&B acts, the daredevil racers — and thousands upon thousands of classic posters from a shop that churned out more than 20 unique versions per day at peak production. Bob had little idea that anybody gave half a darn for the old stuff that had made the Ciceros (Joe Sr., and brothers Bob, Frank and Joe) such a magical act all those years. There were a few hardy friends who thought otherwise, hoping that Globe could be preserved as a whole and kept, somehow, in Baltimore.

What they needed was a crazy person visionary, someone willing to champion the cause at any personal cost. Mary’s cost included having to hear Shop Boy scream “no, no, no!” at the idea of her taking this project on, then eventually having to hear me scream “no, no, no!” as she tried at the end of another long day to pull me out of the Globe shop, which of course had become my personal playground. What a cool place. I mean, you know me, chicken to the core, scared stiff of what might lie in wait in that dark spot at the back of a cabinet that hadn’t been touched in decades. But there went Shop Boy’s bare hand, reaching for whatever that was. The discoveries! OK, they were the “Christopher Columbus discovers the New World!” kind of discoveries. (Really, you were the first person there, CC?) The coolest thing? Bob Cicero was so amused at my zeal that he let me take all this stuff back to Typecast Press to play with on our presses. Shop Boy was not shy about doing so. Thus, Typecast suddenly has stacks and stacks and stacks of proofs pulled from the mostly forgotten cuts. To tell you the truth (another Bob Cicero-ism), Globe had not made posters the letterpress way in some years, its 24,000-pound Miehles silent since a move from South Baltimore in the Eighties. The trade-off is that I’d clean years of dust and dirt off before I used the cuts, “repair” broken ones and then bring them back to await their fate as Mary pitched the “collection” to MICA.

This was touchy business. Mary, as a mere adjunct professor of letterpress printing at MICA, needed to awaken a school (all the way to the president’s office) to the possibilities that taking on a dusty, indefinable, and just plain vast assortment of letterpress stuff would present to the school. Oh, and the school would have to buy the collection …

Shop Boy can’t find the words to describe my pride at Mary’s efforts at persuasion — and those of the MICA folks to see in time what she saw and felt so passionately all along. And the MICA seniors … kids who’ll never get to actually use the collection. How they rallied for it! You could cry, really.

There have been a few bumps, of course, even now, with the deal so close to done. As I keep telling Mary, when you move mountains, chances are you’re going to have to set them down on someone’s toes. (I thought that statement fairly profound — Shop Boy will have to some day look up who I stole it from.)

Mary will never tell you that she saved the Globe collection (though she will say how much stronger this has made her belief in the power of a tiny, committed group to make a big  difference). Neither will Shop Boy (though I will quietly always believe it). Who cares, right? The Globe collection is saved.

Who could have imagined that six months ago?

And after all this, how hard can it be for Mary to turn Shop Boy back into a contributing member of society and build Typecast Press into the household name that I believe, ahem, it should already be?

It ain’t her first time at the rodeo, after all.

Back in Business

January 16, 2011

Is there an echo in here? Hello? Hel-lo? Hel-hel-hel-oo-oo-oooo?

OK, I get it. This has been a big, empty space for far too long. Well, Shop Boy’s been kind of hiding out. From computers, from e-mail, from everything. Anything not directly related to the holidays and the physical production of stationery, that is. Snowed under with work — yay! — Mary’s needed me to be a mini-her, something never really required of me before. Like flying solo on the Heidelberg Windmill. Tackling tricky cuts with pricey paper on the big guillotine. Or even more daunting, mixing my own ink colors. In fact, Shop Boy’s thinking of getting a T-shirt for around the shop: “Trust me. I do this professionally.” Wouldn’t that be a funny turn in all this?

Then again, it’s the only thing Shop Boy does do professionally these days. Yep, the economy bit me. At least Mary took the news of my layoff as a journalist better than I did.

“How quick can you get to the printshop?”

And once Mary knows you’ve got some free time on your hands, well …

As one guy recently noted of Shop Boy: “You’re the busiest unemployed person I’ve ever met.”

So, that’s where I’ve been. Plenty to write about but no time to write it.

If you’ve stumbled upon this blog by mistake or have been checking in occasionally, please stop by again soon. Just a taste of what’s to come:

Press acquisitions. (Surprise!)

Back-to-school plans. (Not as you might expect.)

A Hollywood ending.

And, of course, go-go girls.

Let’s talk soon.

Permafrosted

November 6, 2010

It’s safe to say that, if they X-rayed his lungs today, Shop Boy would receive a sparkling report.

And a dark diagnosis: Freezer Burn.

I mean, the warning signs were there. That odd glistening from certain angles. The telltale gleaming smears on the dinner napkin. Shiny dandruff. Disco-ball reflections off the fingertips.

Shop Boy: “How long do I have?”

Dr. Mashburn: “Ninety-one.”

Shop Boy: “Days? Just three months!?!?”

Dr. Mashburn: “No, 91 more cards. And you’ve got about three hours.”

Shop Boy “NOOOO-ooooooooo!”

True story: Shop Boy’s always kidded Mary about her love of handmade paper. I didn’t get it, and sometimes still don’t, to be honest. The edges were all rough and ragged. The thickness was all messed up and irregular. And it was expensive as heck. One Christmas when we were dating (yes, her obsession goes back that far, way before letterpress took over our lives), Shop Boy went to the drug store, bought a ream of garishly colored construction paper, crumpled it a bit and tore it into rough, kinda-square chunks.

“To Mary: Since I know you love wrecked paper.”

Oh, we laughed about it back then. But at 3 a.m. on a Thursday night/Friday morning, it was all Shop Boy could do to keep from crying.

See, the thing about handmade paper and letterpress printing is that inconsistent thickness of sheets of paper means the impression is all messed up, some sheets printing beautifully, some barely touching the form enough to pick up ink. The best you can do is segregate like thicknesses into separate piles and change packing depth as you go to match. Annoying? Oh, you betcha. Add sprinkles, which of course Mary had, and … oh, man.

The job was a card for wedding guests letting them know that a donation to a charity had been made in their honor in celebration of the bride and groom’s big day. Nice gesture. The design included a side-by-side silhouette of the happy couple, with it and the words of the invitation to be printed in gold ink on, yes, Freezer Burn, a white, sparkly, handmade paper from Porridge in Nebraska.

Mary loves her some Porridge Papers. We’ve done magical cards for a fantastically, um, creative friend on orange paper with orange sprinkles — Shop Boy forgets what that paper shade was called. (Mary informs me over my shoulder that it was called Fuzzy Navel. Awesome!) We did a baby announcement on a bluish paper that Porridge had added a scent to, so that when recipients opened the announcement of the little darling’s arrival … they smelled a hint of baby powder. Cool, no?

“What’s with Baltimore and all this sparkle paper?” Christopher James, the proprietor of Porridge Papers, was asking Mary, having received several similar orders recently from her.

You have to remember, Baltimore is the city whose favorite nutty mayor decided that an answer to the recycling problem was to take all the glass bottles piling up, crush them, add them to road-paving materials and … glasphalt. A number of the city’s streets shine like diamonds when your headlights hit them. Swear. That’s just how we roll. Besides, when clients get a look at some of the funky stuff we’ve printed on sparkle paper, sometimes nothing else will do.

Now, what can Shop Boy say about gold ink? It’s an odd deal. First off, that’s actual gold leaf in there. Meaning it’s a bit pricey. Second, on certain papers it prints more brown than golden. Baby announcements that smell like baby powder? OK. Baby announcements that look like baby poo? Not so much.

Gold ink is also picky about how you apply it. Spread it on the ink wheel of a C&P, get it to the right density for the run and you’re off. Awesome. But say, for the sake of argument, that sprinkles get shaken loose from the paper your printing with each and every impression, creating golden blemishes wherever they land, sometimes sticking to the plate and messing up five cards before you even notice. Then you take a speck of gold from the ink plate and dab it into the crummy-looking crevices. Two very different shades of gold. That’s OK. It’ll dry back and blend in. Same ink, right?

Um, nope.

Which Shop Boy really didn’t get through his skull until 3 a.m. rolled around, he proudly picked up the pile of “finished” cards and he noticed that six hours of eye-straining, nerve-testing, absolute focus had produced … garbage. I mean, it was incredibly subtle work, using the steel tip of a long-expired pen to dip into a droplet of the gold ink and then, very carefully, tracing the contour of a nose or a chin on a cameo or adding a splash of color to a spot here and a spot there, and there and there and there and there and there and there and there.

Look at the dried card straight on? Nice. Let it catch the light? The effect? Bird doo on a statue, like from a golden eagle or something:

And the sparkles? In my nose. In my tear ducts. On my scalp. In my teeth. And, yes, in my lungs.

A big pile of wrecked paper. And a job that would have to start again, almost from scratch.

I see spots.

Stage Dive

October 5, 2010

Shop Boy may have claimed to be many things in this letterpress blog on occasion: chronicler of the absurd, poker of hypocrites (self included), lover of heavy metal as well as syrupy pop music, hater of bugs.

One thing I’ve never tried to pass myself off as … not even once … is a printer. Oh, I may offer a helpful hint now and then to a shop visitor or blog reader by mistake. But Mary’s the brains here. Really. She gives me grief when I call Typecast Press her shop. But honestly, all that we’ve accomplished as a business is her doing. How the printshop looks? OK, some of that’s me. But Mary’s the printer. She does her thing, then Shop Boy cheers … and cleans the presses. And maybe writes, ahem, a word or two about it.

Believe me, that’s how I prefer it.

So imagine my surprise — OK, horror — when Mary handed me her iPhone, displaying the ad for a recent AIGA event.

One of the featured speakers? Guess.

“They’re not making people pay for this, are they?” I asked.

They were. Shop Boy? Already paying as soon as I saw the ad.

Kat Feuerstein of Gilah Press + Design, Mary Mashburn and Shop Boy of Typecast Press and Ray Nichols of Lead Graffiti will share their love and war letterpress stories, tips and tricks and answer all your questions!

Where to hide?

“Mary Mashburn and Shop Boy.”

Ooh. Ever hear the expression “a face for radio,” meaning “too ugly for TV”? Shop Boy’s got a face — and a voice — for blogging.

Mary assured me that this would all turn out fine. That, yes, I am a printer:

Who ran the job on the windmill last weekend?

Shop Boy, but …

Who does so many of the C&P jobs and sets up demonstrations on the clamshell presses for tour groups?

Shop Boy, but …

Who empties the garbage cans, fills the solvent dispensers, changes the water jug, deals with the recycling, unfolds the boxes of envelopes (then re-folds them after they’re printed), digs out the 26″ by 40″ ream of Lettra from the absolute bottom of the stack of enormously heavy boxes then puts it back when Mary decides to use a different paper, rounds the corners on the coasters, wrestles the eyeleter to a draw, picks up lunch, makes the coffee, reminds Mary which way “clockwise” is and sings a few really bad songs really badly?

OK, Shop Boy, but …

I don’t know about the whole “Shop Boy as expert” deal.

So there we were at the Windup Space at the appointed hour, ready to give our talk. The Windup sits on Baltimore’s once-hopping North Avenue, now kind of a gloomy stretch of fried chicken places, cash-checking services, Jo-Willie’s Bank & Trust, sketchy taverns, no-tell motels and the castle/fortress that the Baltimore school system built as a symbol of its great successes with urban students. To be fair, North Avenue also has Joe Squared (awarded the 2010 Shop Boy Gold Seal for pizza) … and the Windup Space. It’s essentially a big old, hollowed-out tavern itself with an extensive show of tattoo-inspired art along one wall, a long bar along the other, a small stage and a bunch of tables. It looked like a fun place to hang out. Beer in bottles or on tap, what looked like an OK liquor assortment and a bathroom that didn’t give Shop Boy the creeps. We’re there!

Mary had prepared a slide show (as had Kat and Ray) to give the audience a feel for our shop and work, helpfully illustrating several panels on the joys and hazards of collecting — and cleaning — printing presses with doodles by Shop Boy, who has never claimed to be an artist.

Shop Boy has never tried to pass himself off as a computer whiz either, by the way. So, as the IT guys threw up their hands when the projection projector wouldn’t project the project that Mary had spent all day on, Shop Boy began pacing even more furiously. No A/V aids meant more talking. Not good.

But Mary doesn’t take “no” from any computer. So while Shop Boy sweated, she elbowed the IT guys aside and set about untangling cords. There was a wrong adapter in the mix or the pixel setting was discombobulated or whatever. (Like I said …) At last, the  guy behind the bar — who it turns out was Windup Space owner Russell de Ocampo — remembered an old Mac laptop he’d had stashed in the back room and, as old Macs will, it fired right up and saved the day. The picture wasn’t great, but our audience would get the idea. And the less they could see of Shop Boy’s doodles, the better. You, readers, are not so lucky:

Anyhow, Mary sailed through her 10-minute presentation, mixing humor with the insight, then Ray and Kat did likewise, and nary a peep out of Shop Boy (even with Kat poking me a couple of times to urge me to speak up) — they were doing so well without me. But then came the Q&A period, and Mary’s hand reaching over with the piece of paper that held the questions we were supposed to answer whether they came from the audience or not. “You do this one, Shop Boy,” she said sternly.

It was a “complete this sentence” kind of question: “You will do well at letterpress printing if you are …”

I choked on the wording until it came out something like: “What kind of person would want to do this?!?!”

Freudian slip? “You will do well at letterpress printing if you are …” CRAZY.

Then something crazy did happen. From somewhere deep within Shop Boy came a soliloquy on the art, the majesty and the magic of letterpress; how it can turn someone who isn’t a printer, isn’t an artist and isn’t a computer tech (duh!) into a creator of a tangible beauty — that blank piece of paper transformed into something lovely.

Sigh. There goes all of Shop Boy’s whining down the tubes.

Nip and Luck

September 10, 2010

The windmill certainly let’s you know where you stand. Or should stand anyway.

“Oh my god, Mary, what did you do to your finger?” Shop Boy asked after noticing the gnarly bruise, blue and purple stretching about an inch fore and aft of the knuckle of the middle finger on her right hand.

“Um, I screwed up?”

We’ve discussed how Mary loves the Heidelberg, and all its knurled knobs, dials and doohickeys. Apparently it loves her back. Enough to let her off easy.

Just this once.

The way Mary described the incident, it went kinda like this: The paper stack started getting wonky in the “out” rack and she worried the sheets might begin to slip onto the floor and get dirty or, worse, end up in the guts of the machine and have to be fished out. So she made a quick reach in from the right side of the windmill, thinking she had clearance.

She very nearly had a little extra room on her right hand. There are several moving parts on that side of the machine, and her finger got “pinched” between two of them.

Complacency. Lack of focus. Familiarity. Overconfidence.

There’s enough danger in the printshop without adding any of the above.

Mary, it seems to Shop Boy, added all four.

Next time, she might end up with exactly that many fingers.

If she’s lucky. Lesson learned.

Composite Metal

August 31, 2010

It was 10:30 on a Tuesday night, and all but a few of the Denver bars had closed up shop for the night. (Don’t get Mary started. Let’s just say that she and I often differ on the wonders of Denver … and we’ll leave it at that.) She’d picked up a copy of Westword, the local independent publication that has become a whole lot more slick since Mary and Shop Boy left town, perhaps riding a high brought on by page after page after page of ads for all of the, cough, legitimate medical marijuana dispensaries in the city.

Now, don’t you go calling them “head shops,” you sassy thing. You need a prescription to score your doobies.

Giggling aside, Shop Boy and Mary believe in the legalization of marijuana for a bunch of health reasons. It can help fight nausea in those undergoing chemo. It can help fight pain and, OK, stimulate an appetite in those who’ve been through similar medical hell. Look, if Granny’s hurting and scared, and smoking a joint would help ease her suffering, I’m buying. But it’s still a bit trippy to see ads for delicious-looking pot brownies and chocolates. Swear to god.

Here’s the kicker: Since the state law on medical marijuana passed, the taxes on the stuff have been puffing up local budgets. That will make it a bit tougher to pull the hemp out from under the law. Either way, it’s a fascinating social experiment.

So, in the midst of these pot ads, the straight and the dopey, Mary stumbled across a listing for a book-signing at the legendary Tattered Cover bookstore in Denver.

Mary: “Isn’t this that Megadeth guy?”

Shop Boy: “What, Dave Mustaine? He’s written his autobiography? That should be some story.”

Sex & drugs & drugs & drugs & drugs & drugs & sex & drugs & drugs … and rock & roll.

Shop Boy’s been a huge fan of the rock & roll part of Mustaine & Megadeth for a long time. Mary? Ooh. Shop Boy had this running joke, using words to Mary’s favorite songs and singing them like Mustaine does in “Sweating Bullets.” (Mary’s classic response: “Isn’t he a little old to be talking like the devil?”) Mustaine’s snarling version:

Hello, Me.
Meet the real Me
And my misfit’s way of life
A dark black past is my
Most valued possession
Hindsight is always 20/20
Looking back it’s still a bit fuzzy
Speak of mutually assured destruction
Nice story …
Tell It to Reader’s Digest!

Shop Boy’s:

Billie Jean is
Not my lover
She’s just a girl who
Claims that I am the one …

You get the idea.

Mary: “Too bad you missed him. He was here the 25th. Oh, wait. That’s tomorrow.”

Alas, he was scheduled to sign books at 12:30 p.m. or something (although you could line up at 6:30 a.m. if you wanted). Shop Boy and Mary’s dad, Wayne, would be in our seats at the blessed cathedral known as Coors Field for a baseball game by then. He’d planned the journey months in advance.

Mary: “I’m going to go.”

Well.

Let me tell you, I’ve whined in this space about Mary sending me to makeup stores on my own to stumble blindly (and choke on the fumes) while looking for the Kevin Aucoin mascara or the “porcelain delicate” shade of this foundation or that. Shop Boy clearly had no idea how much she appreciated my sacrifice.

She asked me to tell her again why I like Megadeth so much. Well, it’s speed metal, of course. I mean breakneck speed metal. Yet oddly melodic. Somehow it all sounds like a classical composition, not simply a song. Very tight. And, as you might have guessed, Shop Boy loves to play around with words. Ditto for old Dave here.

Mary wanted to hear a different song by Megadeth to remind her of what it sounded like. Cue the air guitar: Dun-da-da-da-dadada-naa-naaa! Shop Boy let loose on a few bars of “Almost Honest,” a slow song by Megadeth standards, but a big favorite.

I was nearly pure
When I said I loved you
You were semi-sincere
You said, “I’d bleed for you”
We were kinda candid
Now you’ve gone away
We were almost honest … almost

“Oh, I like that one,” Mary chirped.

(Who needs bars when you got this kind of entertainment handy, am I right?)

Thus Mary declared herself primed and ready to meet The Man.

And so she did. Mary and the metalheads.

To hear her tell it, she was unimpressed. At least at first. Shop Boy’s never written a book or been approached for his autograph — yet — so I can’t imagine how difficult a book tour is on a guy. But “Mr. Mustaine” had apparently woken up on the wrong side of the bed this afternoon. When one young chap offered that he’d met the rock star a while back in a show in Small Town X, suggesting that he and the guitarist were now old buddies, Mr. Mustaine snarled, “We do a lot of those events. I don’t remember you.”

Next!

A few moments later, a young mother approached, with toddler in tow, announcing that she planned to raise her child on heavy metal, and indeed rocked the child to sleep accompanied by Megadeth. That really got to the author, who took off his sunglasses — for just a second — to wipe … a tear? “F-ing kids … always get to me,” he said to no one in particular.

Now it was Mary’s turn. She’d bought the book downstairs, where a fastidious librarian type had attached a Post-it note clearly alerting Mr. Mustaine as to whom he was signing for. In this case, he was thrown.

“Who’s Steve?” he snapped.

Not the woman who stood before him, dressed prettily in a skirt and a designer black blouse. She’d removed her little green-patterned sweater so as to better color-coordinate with the jeans and black T-shirt crowd. A bicep tattoo might have helped there.

Uncowed, she told Mr. Mustaine that “Steve” was Shop Boy (a.k.a. her husband), relaying basically what I’d told her about his music and lyrics as he went about the business of applying his John Hancock to the book. Behind his dark glasses she wasn’t sure if he was listening or not. She didn’t much care. “Well, I need to shake your hand,” she said matter-of-factly, “so that I can tell him I shook Dave Mustaine’s hand.” (She said later that she wasn’t going to wash the hand so that I could shake it later and touch the master’s essence or whatever. But then she remembered all the horror stories Shop Boy’s told her about men not washing after using the bathroom, and she quickly headed off to freshen up.)

“Hey,” he called to her. She stopped and turned. “Those are good words, man. I appreciate it.”

Apparently …

Makeup counter, here I come.

Defying Description

August 2, 2010

Typecast Press, chasing off potential customers since …

Well, last weekend.

The weather was perfect as Shop Boy arrived at the studio from an errand. Mary had been inside all week scrambling to finish a couple of wedding invites and also dodging the heat, so I figured she could use a micro break on the loading dock. Somehow I talked her into it.

As we stood in the sunshine and cool breeze — in August! in Baltimore! — an unfamiliar pickup truck turned into the lot and drove behind the building. When this happens after normal workday hours or on the weekend, it usually means one of two things: hooker hook-up or illegal dumping. It’s kind of secluded back there, and there’s a dumpster for building tenants — a magnet for trash haulers looking to make their load someone else’s problem. Either way, it kind of makes Mary angry.

“Will you remember the license plate number when they come out?” she asked me.

Sure.

True story: We were visiting Mary’s mom and dad in Colorado Springs a few years back when there was a knock on the door. Wayne was out running errands, Mary was in the shower, and Mama was doing laundry, so I answered it. On the stoop was a bleeding young man who said he’d just crashed his car and wondered if he could use the phone to call his mother. What can you say?

I called Mama in and she set about nursing the wounds on his face and arms, telling me to get the young man something cold to drink — southern hospitality and all that. The young man called his mom and we figured we’d wait a few minutes with the kid, send him on his way and that was that. Good deed done.

In the meantime, Mary had dressed and come downstairs, acting all weird and stuff about the presence of a bandaged stranger in the living room. Gosh, she’s so suspicious. To be honest, in looking back at it now, he was perhaps pacing a bit, maybe sneaking looks out between the living room blinds, which might have been odd. But his brother came soon enough, dispatched by his mom when she couldn’t get away from work. And, all right, maybe, in retrospect, it was kind of funky that his brother would ask him angrily, “What have you gotten yourself into now?” and he would answer, “Let’s just get out of here.”

And that probably would have been the end of it, had Wayne Mashburn not arrived at that very moment and smelled something very fishy about the whole deal. Our quick explanation had him darting out the door to see where the brother’s car went. Oddly enough, it was still just up the street. And when Wayne saw our young accident victim duck down in the seat as a police car passed … well, Shop Boy won’t tell you what he said. But he wasn’t impressed. He noted the brother’s license plate number as it left the scene and flagged down the cop car.

Well, golly. You’d have thought Shop Boy and Mama were the criminals the way they grilled us back in the house. The cop was almost as bad.

It turned out that the kid was a fairly well-known burglar who had made the mistake of breaking into a nearby home with a dog that immediately attacked him, leaving no escape but straight through a locked glass patio door. (The kid didn’t lie … that’s a car wreck, am I right?)

“Do you mean to tell me I’ve been hopping fences and running down alleys the past half-hour looking for this guy and you’re feeding him lemonade and cookies?!?!

Yes, Shop Boy found that a bit of a rude way of putting it, too. But the officer was sweating and breathing hard, and he’d sprained his ankle or torn his hamstring or something, so I just chalked it up to a bad mood when he became even meaner about my lack of recollection of what the young perp was wearing.

The topper was when he asked Shop Boy, for the police report, what I do for a living.

“Journalist!” he half spit. “Some journalist …”

I quickly demanded a lawyer. That was all this copper was getting out of Shop Boy.

He did manage to get a full description of the dude from Mary, and Wayne of course had the license plate for the “wheel man.” So the kid was behind bars before long. And a few weeks after the fact, Mama got a commendation from the police chief for her crime-fighting efforts, giving us all a good laugh. (Shop Boy got squat, and I’m still a little sore about that, to be honest.)

Anyhow, so rather than count on my memory to save the license plate number on this weekend’s illegal dumper/hooker hook-upper, I ran to get my phone with the camera. Mary was super suspicious, so I hurried. Really, I was gone all of 20 seconds.

And just like that, a gentleman with long, grayish hair who’d explained through his rolled-down truck window that he’d read about Typecast Press, might have even mentioned this blog, had worked in letterpress shops all over Baltimore and thought he’d come say hello …

High-tailed it out of the parking lot as though Mary’d begun unloading a shotgun at him from the loading dock. Shop Boy showed up just as he was hitting the accelerator.

He hadn’t given his name, which I guess is where the New Yorker in Mary kicked in. Still, the remorse hit immediately. “Oh, my god. That was so mean,” she said. In her suspicion, she hadn’t really bothered to listen to the guy’s explanation. All she saw was someone who shouldn’t be there. And she felt horrible, running through in her mind who it might have been. Perhaps the man who’d e-mailed her from time to time asking her to read his life story of a Baltimore printer. What was his name?

“This is why I always ask people to make appointments,” she said. “How was I supposed to know if he was legit? Put that in your blog: Please make an appointment. God, I’m so mean.”

(Sir, if you are reading this, give us a call. She doesn’t bite that often. Really.)

I rummaged my memory banks, too. And I was sure that he was the guy who’d stopped by once before while we were cleaning galley trays on the loading dock, covered with grime and sweat and not really prepared to “talk shop” with unannounced visitors. But Shop Boy did chat with him just a few minutes and told him he could read more about us at the website before saying I had to get back to cleaning.

“I think it’s the same guy, Mary. Looked just like him to me.”

“Shop Boy, that other man was African-American, with close-cropped hair.”

Oh … um … uh …

And she laughed.

And laughed.

And patted Shop Boy on his silly old head.

Well, la-dee-dah. Just give her a commendation or something.

Workin’ on the Railroad

July 28, 2010

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

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

Other times … well, check this out:

Welcome to Jimmyville.

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

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

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

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

Yeah, it’s incredibly cool.

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

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

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

Sure beats collecting dust.

Have You Seen Me?

July 27, 2010

OK, so I’m blocked.

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

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

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

Dengue Fever?
What About It,
Key West Says

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

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

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

$2M Lotto
Winner:
Can You
Spare It?

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

A Flash in the Can

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

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

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

Quantum Physiques

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

Good Intentions Pave the Road From Hell

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ll know in a few days, I expect.

WK-RIP in Cincinnati

June 30, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

Been a while, eh, Shop Boy?

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

Well.

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

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

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

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

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

Guess we’ll never know.

The Compound

June 23, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me: “Oh my gosh. That was so nice.”

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

Envy is such an ugly thing. ;-)

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

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

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

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

Me: “What? Something for me?”

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

Me (looking around quizically): “Where?”

Mary: “Oh, come on. Over here.”

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

Dear Shop Boy,

Please enjoy this precious notepad. Eyeletted with care.

Most Sincerely,

The Typecast Fairies

I mean, what does one even say to that?

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

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

THANK YOU!