Posts Tagged ‘letterpress blog’

The Cookie Crumbles

May 18, 2017


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

Mary’s Windmill jobs are generally short, tweaky and full of the thinking and measuring and factoring and “dialing in” that produce her truly fine work in mini-bursts. Then Shop Boy steps up, stretches a bit and begins a four-hour run of two-color menu shells for Woodberry Kitchen. They’re designed to be a little rough. Owner Spike Gjerde likes them that way. Shop Boy aims to please. I print a week’s worth at a time. It’s a popular restaurant. Good, too. You should try it.

So there’s the Windmill.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Windmill seemed to have the job momentarily under control and so, seasoned pressman that I am, Shop Boy partook. They were chocolate brownie cookies, and so soft.

Too soft?

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

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

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

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

It could have been better: Mary was really, really mad when I fessed up (because it was going to come out anyway, either right then or here in the blog).

Was Shop Boy crazy? Had I gotten complacent? Don’t EVER eat and run the press! STOP, EAT, and only THEN run the press.

Heidelberg … FOCUS!

Anyway, I rescued the cookie chunk and ate it.

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

Our sign didn’t need to be anything 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.


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.



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 pressure 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.


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.


All Downhill From There

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

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

Why can’t we learn?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, 100% Ad-Free

February 20, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Forecast Calls for Blue Skies

February 9, 2014

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

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

All cool.

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

Shop Boy’s studio neighbors? I wonder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then he turned on his heel and was GONE.

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

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

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

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

The Face of Nursing?

January 20, 2014

Makeup: check.

Lip gloss: check.

Eyelash curler: check.

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

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

steve_JHU3419_steve st

Fair catch?


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

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

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

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

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

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

You should have heard the groans.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hefty: Check.

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

And nice lashes, am I right?

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.
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:
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?
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.

The Sign

March 24, 2011

That was odd. Shop Boy had come across the hall to scout for a background form — a type-high block (8 by 10 in this case) for printing a solid block of color — and lazily left the door open behind him. It was mid-afternoon on a Thursday, not a high-traffic time for the Fox Industries Building, and I’d only be a sec. Mary needed the block pronto for a demonstration over at her Maryland Institute College of Art letterpress class. We’d been moving everything imaginable around in the studio recently, but Shop Boy had a basic idea where such a thing might be.

Just as I pulled open a file drawer, there was a weird sound behind me. Somebody else was here. Shop Boy looked around for a heavy, blunt object just in case.

OK, every stinking thing in a letterpress studio is a blunt object capable of inflicting bodily harm. I might be dead before I could choose among potential weapons. Shop Boy summoned his courage and peeked sheepishly around the corner.

“Are you the Grim Reaper?” I asked.

OK, I asked that in my head. Mostly I just stared at the figure who’d wandered through the open door. But it was definitely what Shop Boy was thinking: My escort to the next world had arrived. She was the picture of calm, her long, white hair framing a serene, smiling face.

Shop Boy was struck dumb. I grew up on the Grim Reaper of the Monty Python sketches, the black-clad, skeletal Death with the scythe impatiently gesturing toward the salmon as the killer of all the dinner guests as the hostess quite literally dies of embarrassment.

The older woman was silent for a moment as well. Then she spoke …

“I have been coming here for years,” she said.

Gulp. Death had been stalking me. Waiting for this moment. Why this one? Was it the deli turkey?

Now, I’d always told my late mom that she wouldn’t die anytime soon, that she was too mean for a heaven-type atmosphere, that God didn’t want any part of her until she mellowed. Shop Boy figured the big fella saw me as someone who had a few issues to work through as well before I could even get a tee time at St. Peter’s Country Club, never mind pulling up a bar stool at the ultimate 19th hole. Guess you never know.

“Are you an actual museum?” she asked with a smile. “I get a shiatsu massage down the hall regularly , and I’ve never seen the museum sign before or seen the door open.”

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. The sign next to the door. We were thinking of a demarcation for the studio, something that would be fun. Mary and Chris Hartlove came up with the words: “The Old Printers’ Home and Museum of Mostly Useless Antiquities.” Shop Boy had come up with the idea of a “right-reading” copper-on-wood printer’s plate. A normal plate would of course read backwards so as to print correctly. The plate maker, Owosso, thought it was all a cute idea, too.

“Um, hee-hee, that’s kind of a joke,” Shop Boy stammered. “Our old roommate was a photographer who used actual film, and we use these crazy old presses. You know, it’s all outmoded stuff no sane person would, uh, be caught dead using to try to make money nowadays.”

She looked around for an uncomfortable moment, turned and floated back toward the exit, as Shop Boy — still a bit shaken, honestly — realized he’d probably seemed kind of rude to his, um, guest.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I was just, uh, surprised to see someone here.”

The woman grinned. Then she was gone.

Spooked, Shop Boy grabbed the background block for Mary and decided to knock off, uh, cash in, er, stop working … for the day. Not, like, forever or anything.

And I drove home very cautiously, pausing only to pay $53 for 14 gallons of gasoline, an oddly reassuring reminder that this truly ain’t heaven.


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.


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.

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.


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
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.


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

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

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

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

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

Guess we’ll never know.

The Compound

June 23, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me: “Oh my gosh. That was so nice.”

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

Envy is such an ugly thing. ;-)

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

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

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

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

Me: “What? Something for me?”

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

Me (looking around quizically): “Where?”

Mary: “Oh, come on. Over here.”

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

Dear Shop Boy,

Please enjoy this precious notepad. Eyeletted with care.

Most Sincerely,

The Typecast Fairies

I mean, what does one even say to that?

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

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


Three Times the Charm

June 18, 2010

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

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

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

And then he tipped over.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Shop Boy about fell over backwards.

Presidential Zeal

June 10, 2010

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

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

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

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

Even a letterpress printer.

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

Are you kidding?

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

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

I could, but I won’t.

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


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

Shop Boy’s timetable?

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

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

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

So I questioned the wisdom of such a decision.

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

Two Double Goose Eggs

June 3, 2010

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

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

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

Nope. You lose.

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

That’s who wins, right?

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

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

Still, I really hope we get the job.

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

Um, hell-oooo!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s it. Ouch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“This makes no sense.”

But I hope not.

A Little Off the Top

May 24, 2010

Paper is difficult to ship. There’s no getting around that. It bruises easy. Get careless and drop a box of, say, 26- by 40-inch paper on its corner and you might ruin four square inches of every stinking sheet in the stack. That’s wasteful, expensive and, most importantly, it really bums Shop Boy out.

And that’s a darn shame.

See, Mary — and most professional printers, I’m guessing — can do the basic geometry with a calculator and a ruler on how to best cut around the damage for the least amount waste. So could Shop Boy, I imagine, if I wanted to.

I do not.

Nope. Shop Boy wants to slide the sheets from the big box onto our trusty little cart, wheel them over to the cutter, set the guide and chop away.

Which is why the new brand of menu paper that we’re using for Woodberry Kitchen has been making me smile. Mary found it online while looking for ways to bring the per-unit cost of the menus way down, for the restaurant and for Typecast Press. And it is cheaper. Bonus points: Better for the environment, as it is 100 percent post-consumer. Double bonus points: It shows up in pristine condition. The name of the paper? Shop Boy’s secret, lest someone grab it all and force us back to the old brand.

Anyway, maybe this stuff is sturdier. Or maybe the manufacturer packs it a little better. Or maybe the new delivery guy — Derrick, Mary informs me dreamily — has simply learned how to better deliver paper than most.

Me? I’m not asking questions.

I’m not doing the math.

I’m cutting.

I’m also jinxing it, of course. Let’s all knock on wood pulp.

Conk on the Head

May 17, 2010

Now, this had to be the left-hander’s coup de grace. Shop Boy was driving 75 kilometers per hour on the left side of a two-lane road.

Of course, it was a foreign country, and that’s what the locals do, but still. There are anywhere from six to eight rotaries, or roundabouts if you prefer, on the way from the airport in Grand Cayman to the road we needed to find for the East End of the island. Negotiating those bad boys is like driving upside down. So you’ll have to forgive Shop Boy’s inexactness on the number. I lost count in all the screaming.

Sweating it? Oh, you betcha. But I’d been doing that since the morning before. See, we were supposed to be lounging on the beach already but had, ahem, missed the last U.S. Airways flight of the day out of Baltimore that would have reached Charlotte in time for the connecting flight. This being the off-season for Grand Cayman, there are only a couple of flights per day.

You should have seen us on that sad ride home from the airport. It’s the kind of harsh lesson and crushing disappointment that’ll make you straighten up and fly right. No more of this last-second race to the check-in counter for us. The lady who’d scolded us for, like, 15 minutes gave us a final warning:

Our only option was a flight that left at 5:45 a.m. the next day. Airport check-in and security opened at 3:45 a.m. Be waiting at the door.

Don’t have to tell Shop Boy twice. The fear of god — or, more precisely, my sister Margaret — was firmly installed. If I wasn’t waiting at that door at 3:30 a.m., we’d mess up the wedding and create another of those moments that you spend the rest of your life trying to live down. Nope, 3:30 was gonna find me on the airport sidewalk, nose pressed against the window, passport out of its sleeve and driver’s license in my hand, boarding pass ready for inspection, chewing gum for the trip — orange for Mary, peppermint for Shop Boy — packed neatly into the carry-on, laptop out of its case, shoes off and wristwatch stowed away, cellphone in “airport” mode and pants sagging with my belt already rolled up and stuck inside my left shoe.

Mary? She immediately rushed to the alarm clock and set it …

For 3:30 a.m.


“Oh, relax, Shop Boy,” Mary said. “She was just being an officious jerk. We’ll be there by 4:30 for a 5:45 flight, and we’ll be fine. We’re already packed, right? Trust me. ”

I did. Who I didn’t trust was me. We’d absolutely killed ourselves at the printshop to get ahead on things so that we’d be ready and guilt-free for the trip. Mary’d been up really late for several nights in a row and Shop Boy, a notoriously twitchy sleeper, hadn’t done himself any favors the past few weeks either. Look, Shop Boy’s an absolute freak about being early for the morning train to D.C. If I’m half a minute late leaving the house, the panic sets in. Mary can’t even watch anymore. And yet twice in the last couple of weeks I’ve slept through the alarm(s) and had to gallop in my wrinkled shirt and mismatched socks for the train, barely making it aboard. OK, Shop Boy … point taken.

Anyway, Mary gave a little, Shop Boy gave a little, and we got to the airport early enough that Mary could purchase every single magazine with Michelle Obama or Sarah Jessica Parker on the cover. There were about 30.

And six hours later, the pilot announced that we were beginning our descent into Owen Roberts International Airport, a quaint (gulp) little place. But the airplane’s brakes held, and soon Owen Roberts employees were wheeling the stairs — cool! — up to the plane.

Did I say cool? It’s off-season down there for a reason: It’s hot. The tarmac was a blast furnace. Still, as we descended the stairs, our arrival felt a bit … presidential. Our suitcase awaited us. And once the customs agent stamped our passports — cool! — we were dashing off to the car rental place, having gained an hour through some unexplained international time difference. Shop Boy was not asking questions. We still had to drive across the island to the Reef resort for a late-afternoon wedding. My life was on the line, or so it felt.

Mary had explained the whole driving-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-road deal during the flight. I hadn’t thought to ask before then. Not that Shop Boy should have been surprised. She makes me do
everything left-handed in the printshop, because she is a lefty and this right-handed letterpress stuff is so old-fashioned and, dare we say it — yes, she does — discriminatory. So how awesome was this?

We’d reserved a sub-subcompact car (“Chery QQ or equivalent”), but the place gave us a free upgrade to “teensie-weensie.” Which was nice, because in researching the Chinese-made Chery QQ, Mary had seen it described as a knockoff of a Chevrolet model, but with none of those annoying safety features that Americans insist upon. You know, the idea of coming through a fender bender without massive head trauma and all that. Drivers are a dime a billion in China, apparently.

After a bit of confusion over Shop Boy’s credit card — we’d forgotten to activate it, oops — and a few scowls from the vacationers queued up behind us in the heat, we loaded up our little green clown car, pointed in a direction that felt to Mary like east (I don’t even guess anymore) and off we scooted.

First roundabout: Whooooo-aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

Second roundabout: Look out! … Whew!

“I’m so glad you’re driving,” Mary said as we dodged an impatient islander in the third roundabout.

“I’m so glad you’re navigating,” Shop Boy responded.

And we laughed. Teamwork. This was more like it, shaping up to be just another wacky adventure in the Mary and Shop Boy Show.

This Grand Cayman place is pretty cool. Everywhere is low to the water (hate to be here in a hurricane), it’s about an hour and15 minutes by car — even Chery QQ, I’m guessing — all the way around. All these weird, beautiful plants and odd animals like the wild roosters, the jet-black birds with the sideways tails and the little lizards who rushed up to check us out when we stopped at a public beach. Iguanas, by the way, make for pretty disturbing roadkill. First of all, the two we saw were the size of speed bumps. How could you not see these dinosaur-looking monsters in the road and stop in time? The darn things could total a Chery QQ. And it’s not like they’re dashing out into the road. They are lumbering beasts. Yes, one of them was killed in a roundabout, so maybe it was a “him or me” thing. Still, sad.

We finally reached the Reef at about 3 p.m., were greeted by the incredibly friendly staff, handed a cup of rum punch and sent to our room, which had a balcony overlooking the beach. We quickly surveyed the place, found it clean, slipped into bathing attire, locked up our passports in the room’s safe (a wise choice, we’re told) and went to find Shop Boy’s family. Only a few had made the trip — Dad, sister Rosemary and, of course, Margaret — but since a misunderstanding over our predicament the day before had led to a curt exchange of text messages (my bad), Shop Boy had some groveling to do.

Mission accomplished — we all chuckled it off — Mary and Shop Boy set off for the sand and the ocean for a little chilling before the wedding. If you haven’t been, the sand isn’t like the stuff we see in the United States but more like billions of tiny pebbles bashed into grains by the tide against the coral and volcanic rock. We’ve not been to Bermuda, but you can see traces of the pink that its sand is famous for on Grand Cayman’s beaches. Cool.

We finished our rum punches, dipped our toes once last time and went in to dress for the big event. Shop Boy was casual — the wedding’s theme — in khaki pants and a really boss shirt from Acapulco that Mary’s cousin Mollie had given me. It had been a favorite of her husband, so it meant a lot to me to get to wear it. Mary looked really great in a beachy sundress, her windblown hair a shade wilder and even more awesome than usual. (She kids that little girls are always so drawn to her because she reminds them of a tall muppet.) And off we went.

Two rows of chairs were set up on the beach, and the island minister stood beneath a lovely arch, back to the ocean, to do the honors.

Vinny and Natasha were, unsurprisingly, a beautiful bride and groom. And, as the sun began to set, they were suddenly a beautiful wife and husband.

Now, where do they keep the food around this place? While the bridal party took to the dock for photos (Mary and Shop Boy were in the first family shots, then became just a couple of hungry guests), we began grazing. Chicken satay. Beef kebabs. Conch. Just the beginning of a fun and delicious reception pool- and oceanside. Shop Boy and Mary relaxed.

We’d made it, by trusting ourselves and our teamwork to get us there even after the missed-plane fiasco. It’s a bit Two Stooges sometimes. Mary knows Shop Boy’s worst, but doesn’t play to that. I freak out over my own weaknesses, but know that Mary’s strengths play to mine, and mine (mostly) to hers. Weddings of other people tend to shine some sort of light on your own marriage. You forget, if you’re lucky, that wedding-day feeling of “gosh, I hope this works, because it really seems right.”

Shop Boy has.

Here’s hoping Vinny and Natasha have before the honeymoon’s over.


By the way, I called the delicious shellfish “conch” and was politely corrected by the local server.

He pronounced it “conk.” They ought to know, I guess. It’d be “cawnch” or something in Baltimore, so there you go.

You learn something new everyday. And by relaxing and having faith no matter what goes wrong, you learn a little about yourself. Some days you learn lots. This was one.

Driving on the wrong side of the road?


Spice Girl

April 30, 2010

The scritch-scratch noise was coming from behind the door to the
storage closet. Shop Boy had just arrived at the studio after a hair
to find Mary not around.

There it was again, louder.

Behind that door were either some serious, box-moving mice — in which case, Shop Boy was gone — or somebody was in there.

“Mary?” I called through the door. “Mary?” No response.

It was early in the semester, and Shop Boy had forgotten that intern season had begun. Then it struck me.

“Hey, Shop Boy,” Mary chirped as she entered at last from the other space. “What’s wrong?”

“Mary, why did you lock the intern in the closet?”

“Oh, she likes it in there.”

True story: Our Baltimore neighborhood has this thing for history. You know, linotype inventor Otto Mergenthaler — gulp — lived around the corner from us. Famed writer F. Scott Fitzgerald — holy-moly — spent a while a few doors down from him.

Well, each rowhouse that has had somebody famous living there at one point or another has this blue metal disc announcing same.

Wonder if they’ll let Typecast Press steal the idea:

“Winter/spring 2010 — Sabrina’s Closet.”

Sabrina, for the record, is a former student in Mary’s class at the Maryland Institute College of Art who apparently fell in love with our printshop during a tour and … wandered too close and was
sucked into the letterpress vortex. Since then, she’s seen very little of the outside world. Willingly. Swear to god.

“Um, do you guys mind if I live here during Spring Break?”

She about did. They’d better check the ventilation system over there at MICA’s Dolphin Press, because something’s wrong with these kids. Or maybe it’s the sinus-rearranging 15 pounds of lavendar and ginger that also call the closet home. Whew!

Seriously, Sabrina is a bright, funny and incredibly talented graphic design major from Cleveland, typically resplendent in huge pink, Spice Girls-playing earphones (why she couldn’t hear me through the door), who has singlehandedly organized Typecast Press’s paper, envelopes, boxes and samples into something Mary and Shop Boy never thought we’d see in our lifetimes. Yeah, yeah, yeah, the interns always get the grunt work, but this one’s taken the task by choice.

“Who did that?” Shop Boy asked Mary one day as he spied the barrister bookcases, their random piles of Typecast samples, orphan envelopes, scrap paper and other ephemera replaced by a bunch of those acid-free archival storage boxes, hand-stenciled with the letters of the alphabet.

“I even inventoried them, Shop Boy!” Sabrina beamed, holding up a sheet of paper listing the contents of each lettered box. “I knew you’d notice.”

Shop Boy would be remiss here not to mention that our other current interns, Allison and Nicolette — also from MICA — have likewise been a huge help to Typecast Press, from lining envelopes to cleaning and proofing the crazy pile of old printer’s cuts that we’ve collected to reworking our business card. More on all that later.

Meanwhile, based on sheer number of hours dedicated to the care and feeding of our little printshop, we’re making this “Sabrina Day.”

(She would probably tell you herself that every day should be Sabrina Day.)

Anyway, Sabrina’s internship is up soon as she heads toward her senior year and then on to make a name for herself as an artist and designer in the real world. But we’ll miss her. And she’ll always have a place here at Typecast Press.

And I don’t mean in the closet, arranging stuff.

Well, unless she really wants to.

Tasting Flights

April 12, 2010

In a room full of VIPs — OK, two of them anyway — Mary was a rock star. It was beautiful.

She had gotten a call a few weeks earlier from Heidi, wife of Vincent I. Pullara Jr., about creating an invitation for the third-generation Baltimore printer’s surprise birthday party. No pressure there: designing and printing an invitation sure to be scrutinized by a family of printers. And her … a “girl printer,” of all things. Well, Mary adores Heidi and Vince, and would absolutely leave Shop Boy in a second for Vincent I. Pullara Sr., so she was in.

The event was to be held at a local Maryland winery, Boordy, and so Mary designed a wine bottle-themed invite with funny descriptions of the fictional wine … and of course, the real Vince … on the label: “Bold, assertive Italian flavor; sharp on the tongue, with a witty finish.” Vintage.

Two-color job. Burgundy and a silver-gold blend. No sweat. We’d been tweaking and tweaking the platen of the big Chandler and Price in recent weeks and had at long last finally gotten the printing press’ impression about as perfect as that of an old, worn machine can be. A couple of times through the  C&P on nice, soft cotton paper.

“Hey, that looks awesome,” Shop Boy said of the first pass. “It’s really gonna be cool.”

“Are you sure?” Mary asked. “This has to be awesome. A whole huge family of printers is going to get it.”

She was realizing the enormity of her assignment, and watching the clock tick.

“Don’t worry, you’re nailing it,” Shop Boy answered.

Mary sweated it all the way up until Heidi arrived for the invites. Heidi looked over the wording once more — Mary was at least not worried about that part, since VIP Jr.’s mom Betty had signed off — said she loved the invitation, hugged Mary and went off to begin addressing. Then Mary sweated some more.

Mary: “Do you think she liked them?”

Shop Boy: “Well, she did say she absolutely loved them, so that’s a pretty good sign.”

Mary: “Maybe she was just saying that because she didn’t want to hurt my feelings.”

Oh, boy.

Well, the big day finally arrived, with Shop Boy about having to forklift Mary into the car. You can’t be late for a surprise party. And we were totally on Mary Standard Time.

I should explain Mary Standard Time. See, this is where you make all your calculations based upon how, if every single little detail works out in its absolute best-case scenario, and if the shoe doesn’t have a bad buckle (requiring a change in every article of clothing and a different handbag), and we make every traffic light, and if that stupid Hybrid in front of us on the one-lane road hits the gas,” we can make it to (event name here) almost on time.

We were due at Boordy at 6 p.m.

At 5:58, we were still a mile or two down the road, Mary shouting “duck down!” every time any vehicle that could possibly be carrying the birthday boy came into view.

“Um, I’m driving, Mary. You know,” I added helpfully, “people who are on time don’t need to duck down.”

At 6:03, we slid into place on the grassy parking lot and started running across the field toward the tasting room.

“You know,” I said helpfully mid-dash, “people who are on time don’t need to run.”

Mary’s response will remain between the two of us. You’ll thank me.

I like to joke sometimes that when we have left this earth, our friends and loved ones won’t need to refer to us as “the late Mary Mashburn and Shop Boy,” as that would be redundant.

Anyway … in we strode, looking for places to hide should VIP Jr. be right behind us. Heidi is a very nice person, but she’d have killed us on the spot if we blew the surprise. Lucky again. We made it. And when another couple slipped in at 6:08, Mary said, “See, Shop Boy? We had plenty of time.”


VIP Jr. arrived to much applause and laughter soon afterward, and it was time for a glass of wine and mingling. Mary naturally made a beeline for VIP Sr. This girl and her old-school printers, I’m telling you.

He greeted her warmly and, after, shaking my hand firmly, offered Mary the highest possible compliment on her invitation that could come from a printing lifer:

“I couldn’t find anything wrong with it.”

Honestly, all the other old printers in the room couldn’t quite believe Mary had done the thing. One by one, VIP Sr. paraded them over to our table to meet the person responsible for what everyone clearly agreed was a totally boss invite.

You did this?” one guy asked, looking her over.

“Not only that,” VIP Sr. said with a grin, “she did the design, too. I never did that. Well, maybe she got a little help from [Shop Boy].”

“Nope,” I chimed in, “I just watched.”

What I could have added was, “Are you kidding? Printing for a third-generation printing family? Not me.”

I might be a little late to the party, but I’m not crazy.

Public Citizen

Cross Words

March 29, 2010

We had a fight the other night. Now, in 20 years of marriage, I’ll bet Mary and Shop Boy have had an average of one to two quarrels a year. It’s always over something stupid.

This time took the cake:


And suddenly, Shop Boy needed a seven-letter word for “sorry but there’s a lot on my mind — my mom died five years ago this week and we just watched a play, Our Town, where our neighbors were the stars and the people of the cemetery are dealing with their lot and I’m wishing Mom wasn’t in the ground still and we worked a triple shift and the house is a wreck and I’ve no idea where the bills stand and we’re behind on menus and we’ve had a cocktail — did I mention I’m fat? — and it’s 1 a.m. and now you want to play Scrabble? I never liked Scrabble …”

Like I said, stupid.  Cue the Golf Channel’s British analyst:

“Badly done, Shop Boy. Badly done …”

Now Mary was mad — all she’d wanted was to physically play Scrabble, touching the wooden tiles for real after playing so much of the video version on her iPhone. She’s a killer, FYI, having scored seven “bingos” — clearing all your letter tiles for the win on the first play — in, like, 65 games against the computer. I always warn people against playing Mary in Scrabble for this reason. She goes all Rain Man on you, then does an end zone dance on your fallen figure. At least, that’s what she usually does.

But she could clearly tell Shop Boy was upset about something — OK, everything — and tried to help me, poor suffering word fool that I am, keep the game going while the X’s, Z’s, Q’s, P’s and frustration piled up on my tray.

“This game is stupid,” said I, “and I’ve always hated it because it’s stupid.”


An old golfing buddy of my dad’s, upon hearing that Shop Boy was getting hitched, offered a piece of advice for married couples that I’ve never forgotten. I’ll clean up the language a bit, but it’s essentially this: Never go to sleep back to back. You know, don’t let the anger linger into the next day. Kiss and make up before bedtime. It also helps if you have a tiny, tiny bed, as Mary and Shop Boy did in their apartment-dwelling days — it leaves no room for anger or bad feelings.

There’s no room for bad feelings in the printshop either, a notion that Shop Boy was testing pretty severely at the moment. See, Mary’s funny. She gets upset, lets it all out, and moves on. See it? Say it.

Shop Boy? You might not know it from reading this blog, but the “big lug” — Mom’s pet phrase — has trouble expressing his opinions and feelings sometimes. It usually goes like this: Something’s bugging me, so I think about it, and think about it, and the more I think about it, the more I think I shouldn’t think about that right now. So I try to bury it, and it tries to claw its way out. Mary doesn’t understand, naturally, and wants to help me reach inside and put a balm on whatever’s hurting in there. This has led to some fairly funny — in retrospect — standoffs.

Shop Boy: “I’m going to have to opt out of this conversation.”

Mary: “OK, then … tell me what’s wrong and the conversation’s over. Talk.”

Anyway, Mary and Shop Boy make a good team. Working silently on separate projects? Not so effective. So we made up, Shop Boy clumsily trying to explain why he was a jerk, and we moved on.

Besides, life’s way, way too short for pigheadedness. Ask my mom and her cronies at the cemetery. She’s been with them five years now. I sure hope they’re better company than the stiffs in Our Town.

Letterpress List No. 82: Rollin’ Again

March 23, 2010

So my little brush with crime and the loss of a beloved collection
of CDs got me to thinking, after a long hiatus, about music again.

Namely …

If you’d told Shop Boy 25 years ago that he’d have a favorite Pandora station built on ditties from country singers and jokey folkies — Kinky Friedman, Jerry Jeff Walker, John Prine, Willie Nelson(!) — I’d have told you to take a couple of aspirin and lie down, because you’re feverish, son.

Well, dropkick me through the goalposts of life, Jesus.

Maybe it’s a family thing. My sister Ellen, who converted to Judaism
and raised three kids — OK, and a husband — in the Jewish faith,
rides around Rhode Island in a minivan pumping country songs. Which is “wicked” weird only because of the location — ain’t no cowboys where Shop Boy comes from — and because every so often something country Christian comes on. And they’re grooving to it.

I mean, “Drugs or Jesus” by Tim McGraw? Mary about fell out of the vehicle. It sure did lighten the mood on our way to my mom’s funeral, though.

Now, Shop Boy’s not one to goof on anyone’s religion. Mom raised seven kids — OK, and a husband — in the Catholic Church and went to her grave in the comfort of knowing she was loved and saved. Us kids went our own ways, some finding comfort in various denominations and others not so much. We’re told we’re nice people.

And my brother-in-law Barry’s outlaw CD copy of McGraw’s album Live Like You Were Dying — with “Drugs or Jesus” on it — actually sat in Shop Boy’s truck a while.

It’s just funny sometimes how music often unconsciously becomes part of our fabric.

Take what was swiped from Shop Boy’s truck. (Or, in this case, give it back, whoever you are. Geez.) It reveals me as what I am: white middle-aged (I hope) New England-bred dude fiercely loyal to the music of his teens, twenties and thirties. So what in the world is Kanye West doing on my iPhone playlist. And why am I suddenly more fond of the “Urban Assault” version of Limp Bizkit’s “Rollin'” — with Redman, Method Man and that barking looney DMX — than the original. Young Jeezy? And perhaps even more unexpectedly, U2. I mean, all that chingalingy guitar drives me bonkers. But I love “Vertigo.”

The Doors? As music critic J.D. Considine once wrote of Courtney Love, “I don’t worship at that particular church.” But someday maybe Shop Boy will have recovered from his college roommate’s infatuation with all things Jim Morrison.

It’s why I try not to say things like, “Oh, I hate that band,” or “Oh, I hate that type of music.” And sure, maybe it’s Stockholm syndrome — you know, falling in love with the one who kidnapped you like Patty Hearst did. Mary does play this kind of stuff very loud all the time at the printshop. Maybe Shop Boy’s simply gone off his rocker.

It would kind of explain the letterpress thing.

See, at first Shop Boy indulged Mary while secretly considering every new printing press or furniture cabinet one more stupid thing to clean and every late night as one more cross to bear.

And now? Well, I still kick a bit over the late nights. But mostly I wish Shop Boy could spend more time with Mary in the printshop.

Yep, that clinches it: Stockholm syndrome.

Letterpress List No. 82

Rollin’Limp Bizkit (The old Shop Boy rolled more like this.)
No More Mr. Nice GuyAlice Cooper (So easy a caveman can sing it. What was Geico thinking?)
VertigoU2 (All right, all right …)
Break on Throughthe Doors (Nope. Still ain’t working for me.)
Gold DiggerKanye West (Just sayin’.)
Drugs or JesusTim McGraw ( ;-) )
TemptationDiana Krall (A more sultry version of …)
TemptationTom Waits (Wait, I like this guy’s music? When did that happen? See what I mean?)
1996Marilyn Manson (He’s heading toward middle-aged-ish white guy now as well. Bet he’s screaming mad about that, too. “Anti-aging, anti-fat, get me Grecian formula stat! Anti-statins … now you’ve gone too far.”)
Que Onda GueroBeck (Apparently L.A. barrio slang for “What’s up, white boy?” — and you can absolutely feel the street corner here. Great song. “See the vegetable man, in the vegetable van, with a horn that’s honking like a mariachi band …”)
Ain’t That a ShameCheap Trick (Yes it is — the theft, I mean.)
Ain’t That a ShameFats Domino (You decide. OK, no contest, but the Cheap Trick version went over very well at Budokan. The next three went over even better in my truck.)
Chop Suey!System of a Down (“Why’d you leave the CDs in the truck cab/you wanted to …” Wake up, Shop Boy.)
Toxicity System of a Down (Every SOD song has at least one “what the?” moment.)
DdevilSystem of a Down (This one’s got, like, six … including lead singer Serj Tankian unable to stifle a laugh at it all. Magic.)
SheGreen Day (Turned out whoever broke in got the Green Day CD case, but not the CD, which was in the player. Shop Boy cheered!)
Song for the DeadQueens of the Stone Age (Dave Grohl on drums! Shop Boy gets chills every time.)
AM RadioEverclear (Had never heard of John Prine till Art Alexakis mentioned him in a song. Then came Google and … bam.)
Flag DecalJohn Prine (Patriot.)
My PresidentYoung Jeezy (Just … wow.)

System Outage

March 18, 2010

So, OK — Shop Boy was asking for it. They’d put graffiti on it, dumped trash in its bed, and still I’d leave the truck overnight at the factory building that houses Typecast Press. We leave the printshop so late many nights that taking two cars home seems dumb. Where are you going to park two cars at 2 in the morning in our driveway-less Baltimore neighborhood?


They got my System of a Down CDs. All of them.

(That sound you hear is Mary cheering.)

Again, asking for it …

But I’d sort of gotten overly familiar with the selections in my visor CD sleeve, and had loaded in a new bunch of CDs — in their covers — behind the seat for the great switcheroo. Then I didn’t quite get around to it.

And last night, a thief or thieves smashed the driver’s side window, rifled through the cab and found the stash — both in the visor and behind the seat. And there went Beck, Dire Straits (the Brothers in Arms album that Mary and Shop Boy fell in love to — I’ve got a second copy), Kiss Double Platinum, Cheap Trick at Budokan, Queens of the Stone Age, Tom Petty, Henry Rollins, Elvis Costello, Diana Krall, Foo Fighters, a two-CD set called Mullet Rock, Marilyn Manson, Green Day …

And all that wailing, banging and gnashing of teeth — Mary’s — that is System of a Down.

Thank goodness I’ve still got all those System albums on my iPod.