Posts Tagged ‘Shop Boy’

Letterpress List No. 83: Still on the Line

August 2, 2017

Shop Boy will never again underestimate the power of a love song.

(Has he ever done so? Fine, fine, not really. But we’ve got a new story to tell.)

Now, you know Shop Boy as a mostly (sort of) able letterpress printer who can be a fun guy to have around. Too fun by some people’s (meaning Mary’s) reckoning at times. So there I was, having had a little too much fun. And fun is a relative term. Relative as in: “I’m your wife. I do not approve. Knock it off.”

Oh, like you’ve never been there.

Well, the doghouse was getting a little claustrophobic. There wasn’t any room for my guitar. And this is how I introduce Shop Boy the mostly (sort of) able beginner musician, a metamorphosis (hah!) that’s been happening over the past year or so under the affable and able watch of Paul Hulleberg, a teacher Mary found for me. Paul generally works with young school kids, so he’s patient as heck. Really it’s as much concert as guitar lesson, as Paul plays his lilting folk riffs while Shop Boy hacks and plunks and plangs (!) through the latest menace to my fingers (honestly — who invented these chords?) that Paul has presented. Great musician, dragging around this guitar that he’s had since he was a little boy. It’s not the instrument, it’s the player, kids.

Shop Boy’s “ax” is a Breedlove, a used acoustic guitar we bought out at Bill’s Music. And here, a very strong recommendation from yours  truly:

You can’t imagine how intimidated Shop Boy was to even be in that place. Dudes were moving through the racks upon racks of guitars and sampling them by, you know, playing stuff. Shop Boy had nothing. Not even a basic handle on chords. Mary egged me on. Touch the guitars, she urged. Shop Boy faked his way for a few minutes. I could see a salesman eyeing me … but giving me room. He knew. But he did not judge, and for this I will always be grateful. Mikey is his name, and he’s probably seen thousands like me: guys who get a craze, buy a guitar and then never play. It’s hard, physically and mentally. Your fingers hurt like hell. The craze passes. A guitar goes out the door … and eventually to a musty attic somewhere.

Mikey talked to me guitar player to, um, guitar player — Shop Boy is apparently on a run of patient dudes. When I pointed out the Breedlove (which I’d never heard of but thought was beautiful), he told me I could do better price-wise but that I should listen to the sound. Honestly, the thing produces gorgeous sounds, especially in others’ hands.

I’d heard how hard it was to replace worn strings, a dumb thing to be worried about at this juncture. You need to actually touch them to wear them out. (Honestly, Mary will acquire a “new” machine and the first thing Shop Boy asks is, “What if it breaks?”)

Mikey “plays out,” as the expression goes for actual musicians, and he explained gently that strings tend to age and break down if you bleed on them a lot after a four-hour performance or whatever. (Haven’t had one of those yet.) But mostly they are an easy thing to deal with, especially on the Breedlove, which on this model doesn’t require you to pop out any pegs. Just knot a string, put it though the appropriate hole and it stays anchored. Mikey pointed out beginner picks, made sure I had a no-frills strap, got me a Bill’s “gig bag” to protect the guitar and reminded me that the store offers free lessons for beginners on Saturdays. (Do it. Just learning how to touch a guitar is an acquired skill. And it’s a very mellow process. Various volunteers show up to teach and — oh by the way — let you know what they’d charge to teach you one-on-one.)

From there it was typical Shop Boy: Half walking on air as we left the place with a guitar—my guitar (have I mentioned that I own a guitar?)—half already second-guessing my purchase. A couple of hundred bucks will buy a lot of ink. It would be that way until I started working with Paul.

He comes to the studio on alternate Wednesdays. The kickboxers in the studio below us at the Mill Centre provide the beat.

I’ll save you the Karate Kid montage, but we’ve very slowly worked up to playing songs. “Landslide” didn’t go so well. (There’s a chord change my fingers currently refuse to even consider. It’ll come.) “I’m a Believer” went better. That’s a fun love song, and long a favorite of mine. Admit it, yours too. But this wasn’t about Shop Boy, really. It was about proving to Mary, and I suppose myself too, that fear wasn’t going to stop me anymore. My brother had learned to play guitar as a teen in our very small and overpopulated house, embarrassment be darned. It was ghastly. He—all-hair and then not-so-much—has been in one thrash metal band or another mostly since that time. The latest one, called Held Hostage, is pretty fun. I was afraid to try and sound bad, covered it up by acting like I didn’t want to, and have been screaming jealous for years. That picture of a dude with a guitar and a dog and a cigarette (a Salem ad or something) in the back of a pickup truck parked on a sand dune made Shop Boy rage at his own lack of fortitude.

Of course I wouldn’t use such kind words for it.

This kind of makes me nuts too:

That’s Matt on the right. Dammit.

Different day, different me. A little different, anyway.

Mary was angry and Shop Boy needed a lifeline. I grabbed the guitar and launched into a very simple intro for “Wichita Lineman,” her favorite song—even sang as I played the whole thing. I’ll go on record (hah!) as saying it wasn’t the best rendition you’ll find. Mary (who owns every rendition but mine on iTunes) was surprised and charmed nonetheless.

Fight over. A big moment right there.

Oh, the fear and doubt? They still fight for position in the mosh pit that is my gut, getting a little loosey-goosey with the spiked wristbands for my taste. But life’s a marathon, not a sprint, folks. Some day Shop Boy will own his own space in a crowd, ask for what he deserves, take on a printing project without asking, “What if I screw it up?” And who knows what else?

Until then, Shop Boy will have his less proud moments. Maybe I’ll write a song about it.

The Letterpress List No. 83 (been a while sing Shop Boy did one of these—had to look up what number we were on):

“Summer of ’69” (Bryan Adams)—Played it till his fingers bled … and worried about string damage later.

“Landslide” (Dixie Chicks)—They know from this.

“Wichita Lineman” (Glen Campbell)—Need you more than want you, want you for all time. Post-fighting words.

“Faith” (George Michael)—Gotta come from within, people.

“Self-Esteem” (The Offspring)—Ditto.

“I Wanna Be Sedated” (Ramones)—How many chords do you need, really?

“If It Makes You Happy” (Sheryl Crow)—”It’s not getting what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got.” Oops! That’s from another song—OK, I knew that—but this is the one Shop Boy is currently “mastering.”

“Teach Your Children” (Crosby, Stills & Nash)—I’ll always regret not having started playing guitar years ago. I hope I don’t ever have to stop. This one looks fairly straightforward, um, minus the angelic singing. There are many who wish I’d stopped THAT years ago.

“Last Child” (Aerosmith)—Matt, the fearless one. The rest of us were kinda set in our “oh my god, we might be embarrassed” ways by then. Shop Boy for real.

“Superman” (R.E.M.)—”I can do anything.” Really?

“I” (Kiss)—Affirmative.

“I’m a Believer” (the Monkees/Neil Diamond)—Life’s a fairy tale in the which the “ever after” ends too soon. Get up.

 

Turn Out the Lights

April 3, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

roly

We’re gone.

 

Fox Hunting

March 24, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Give Us a Sign

June 24, 2016

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

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

a_ice cream

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

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

a_princesses

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

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

And there we are.

a_door

 

Deals on Wheels

April 21, 2016

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

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

Well, speaking of brats …

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

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

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

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

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

A Car truck

A_car2

 

Better Men Than Me

February 23, 2016

“I got this.”

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

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

JJ Movers

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

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

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

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

Give me strength.

Truckload of Regrets

February 8, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Last Printing Press You’ll Ever Need

April 14, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or are you that person?

It’s great at holding coffee cups, too.

 

A Snowball’s Chance

January 28, 2015

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

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

Bang! Screeeeech! Run!

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

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

Yikes.

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

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

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

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

All Downhill From There

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

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

Why can’t we learn?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, 100% Ad-Free

February 20, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Forecast Calls for Blue Skies

February 9, 2014

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

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

All cool.

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

Shop Boy’s studio neighbors? I wonder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then he turned on his heel and was GONE.

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

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

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

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

The Face of Nursing?

January 20, 2014

Makeup: check.

Lip gloss: check.

Eyelash curler: check.

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

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

steve_JHU3419_steve st

Fair catch?

Hardly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

You should have heard the groans.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hefty: Check.

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

And nice lashes, am I right?

Door Prize

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

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

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

Blah, blah, blah. 

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

It’s What’s Inside That Counts

January 28, 2013

Artifact 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ahem.

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

Foo.

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

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

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

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

OK, here they are:

bags

Now go. I mean it.

Once More From the Top

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

Old Enough to Know Better

February 9, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overcompensate, that’s what.

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

They complained, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let it be written.

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

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

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

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

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

Um.

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

I’m dead meat.

King’s Ransom

August 25, 2011

Who are these clowns? And how in heck did they find me here?

Shop Boy was up to his ears in dirt and dust, on an archeological dig at Baltimore’s old Globe Poster Printing Corp. In Mary’s latest installment of “Saving the World One Grimy Corner at a Time,” we were prepping and packing Globe’s collection of amazing old stuff for a move to the Maryland Institute College of Art for its next life as a teaching collection. These were the raw materials used to create not only famed posters to advertise big-name R&B and rock music concerts but also for carnivals, burlesque, Hollywood moving pictures, car racing and, yes, Baltimore drag shows. Though “only” an adjunct professor there, Mary had somehow, um, persuaded the president and provost of MICA to purchase the truly mind-boggling collection. (This will not surprise you if you know Mary, but that’s a story for another day.)

Shop Boy was dragged kicking and screaming into the act. I mean, I was having enough trouble keeping Typecast Press in order. “Are you crazy?” But Mary needed me, so I went on that freezing winter day to Globe’s blustery, unheated Highlandtown headquarters, with a big chip attached firmly to my shoulder. Under the 17 shirts and eight jackets, of course.

While Mary and Globe owner Bob Cicero discussed strategy for keeping the collection safe and together, Shop Boy mostly was left  standing around on those Arctic ice floes that were serving as concrete floors. (Did I mention it was cold there? I should.) To keep the circulation going, I began to explore the cavernous place. For years now, most of the action had been on the other side of the plant from the composing room. Globe had been mostly screenprinting plastic “Going Out of Business” signs for others while worrying about its own future. But the composing room was where all that letterpress magic had once happened. Bob’s stories of a buzzing crew creating perhaps 20 unique posters a day there got Shop Boy to thinking of his and Mary’s trippy young days in humming newspaper composing rooms. And as they went off to chat, I tripped again.

It’s tough to describe exactly what Globe’s composing room looked like when we got there. It was just … stacks. And stacks. And dust. And stacks. You stepped over and through openings to get to other openings. Not to criticize, but it had literally been years since a person had stood, or swept, in some of those spots.

And so I found myself on a part of the floor that hadn’t been looked over in a while, at least from this prone angle. I wiped the dust off my shoulder, cursed, then sneezed. Mary called out, “You OK, Shop Boy?” I was fine. I kicked gently at the thing that had brought me down. Just a broken mop handle or something. But what was that next to it? I’d dislodged an old “cut,” an elk head that was probably part of some lodge’s logo that Globe had once printed. It was from a drawer whose bottom had let go. I hadn’t noticed the drawers before. Or the cabinet, for that matter. But there it was, so I decided to take a peek.

Well.

Turns out that in this here factory, among the stacks of lead, mountains of metal, vats of ancient fluorescent ink, reams of fabulously aged paper and rack after rack after rack after rack of hand-carved maple letters and signs were the scattered bits of mid-20th century posters for the Indianapolis Clowns, a Negro Leagues team that, when it wasn’t playing some serious baseball, by all accounts (yup, Hank Aaron is an alumnus), was barnstorming the nation with African costumes, cornball comedy and … blackface. The poster pieces had been set aside long ago once Hammerin’ Hank and the other top black stars were grudgingly accepted into Major League Baseball.

Sports? Here? Shop Boy was all in. I took everything I could carry back to our printshop for proofing on the Vandercook, then packaged them up carefully and set them aside for Bob, who remembers his late dad, Joe Cicero Sr., talking about them, though of course it had been some years back.

Then came this:

Kind of neat, am I right? That’s Eddie Feigner.

Who?

The King!

No, really. As in, The King and His Court.

The long story of how he and his poster came back to life is more amazing, but I’ll give you the quickie version so we can all get back to our own lives a bit sooner.

There are eight pieces to the poster, an advertisement for the barnstorming softball team that would go town to town and, using only four players, beat the bejeepers out of any who dared to challenge them. Shop Boy had seen the act as a kid on ABC’s Wide World of Sports.

The poster worked like many at Globe: The main image would be printed, in several colors, for a big stack of posters. Later, wood type would be used to fill in the locations, dates and times of the shows in black ink. If the client were traveling all over the East Coast, say, the wood type could be swapped in and out to create specific posters for each stop.

Well, the pieces of this particular poster had been scattered through time to the far corners of the Globe warehouse, but suddenly began turning up under here, over there, atop shelves, inside a box, wherever they should not have been. Each time, Shop Boy was waiting. OK, so my main job at Globe was to sort, alphabetize and box the metal-on-wood photo cuts of R&B, rock and hip-hop acts for their eventual further cataloging by young artist/historians at MICA. In the rush to prep the collection for the move, there wasn’t time to worry about searching for the other pieces to a forgotten poster for silly old ballplayers.

Instead, they began finding me. Swear to god.

The black plate popped up first. Shop Boy saw it sitting atop a work table. It clearly depicted a baseball stadium facade with the words “King and His Court” reversed out of it. “Hey, I wonder if this was for ‘The King and His Court,’ ” Shop Boy wondered aloud.

“What was the giveaway?” Bob joked.

The red plate, an echo of the black facade that added a few pennants and a big star with a silhouette of the King’s head, had been snapped in two somehow and ended up at opposite ends of the building. By dumb luck I happened to carry one piece past the other one day, recognized the color of the ink stain on the wood, and … what do you know? The “yellow” background plate — which I obviously prefer as baseball-field green — was mixed among a carton of auto racing poster plates. The four-man lineup cut popped out of a dusty box at the bottom of a stack filled with carnival stuff.

But The King was nowhere. So many pieces of early Globe posters (this was from 1955, as the central pennant shows) had been sawed into shelves once the job was finished or gone missing in a series of printshop relocations that I deemed him a lost cause and got back to the more important task of documenting the key R&B figures whose heads had been in cold storage for too long and bringing them back to life with a little warm ink. I’d culled about 150 heads from a collection of maybe 15,000 that I either recognized from a Globe poster or that just looked cool and different and brought them back to Typecast to proof as well.

It was the ears that caught my eyes. Not the buzzcut in the sea of very fine afros of, say, Stevie Wonder, Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, Roberta Flack and Bootsy Collins. “No way!” I picked up the little head and walked it over to the carved wooden star. The ears matched the silhouette! Yup, the King of Softball had long ago been sorted into the kings and queens of R&B. Funny.

The cartoon part of the poster, explaining the King’s act, lay at the bottom of a crate filled with ink-coated wood once used to fill out huge poster forms. A needle in a haystack.

And finally, after we’d cherry-picked all the best lead type “slugs” produced by the Ludlow, a kind of linotype machine — FUN + GAMES + RIDES and such — three huge containers got filled with the rest, to be sold as scrap. A few stray slugs had ended up on the floor, and had been pushed with a foot or whatever into a dusty corner. Don’t know why, but I dug through the pile.

Hello?

E-D-D-I-E F-E-I-G-N-E-R.

S-p-o-o-k-y.

(Also a bit eerie: This just moved on the Web while I was fact-checking myself. King and His Court to retire, like, this weekend.)

P.S.: Bob Cicero liked the story of Shop Boy putting the poster back together so much, he told me to keep the pieces.

Now, where the heck did I put them?

Kidding!

The Devil Is in the Details Book

July 14, 2011

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

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

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

Mary 1, Kinko’s 0.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not in our store, you don’t.

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

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

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

Movie Time

July 7, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saved for Poster-ity

April 10, 2011

Shop Boy's take on a classic

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

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

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

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

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

“Jesus God, how do you argue with that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who could have imagined that six months ago?

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

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

Back in Business

January 16, 2011

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

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

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

“How quick can you get to the printshop?”

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

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

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

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

Press acquisitions. (Surprise!)

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

A Hollywood ending.

And, of course, go-go girls.

Let’s talk soon.

Permafrosted

November 6, 2010

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

And a dark diagnosis: Freezer Burn.

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

Shop Boy: “How long do I have?”

Dr. Mashburn: “Ninety-one.”

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

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

Shop Boy “NOOOO-ooooooooo!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Um, nope.

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

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

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

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

I see spots.

Stage Dive

October 5, 2010

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

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

Believe me, that’s how I prefer it.

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

One of the featured speakers? Guess.

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

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

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

Where to hide?

“Mary Mashburn and Shop Boy.”

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

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

Who ran the job on the windmill last weekend?

Shop Boy, but …

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

Shop Boy, but …

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

OK, Shop Boy, but …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nip and Luck

September 10, 2010

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

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

“Um, I screwed up?”

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

Just this once.

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

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

Complacency. Lack of focus. Familiarity. Overconfidence.

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

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

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

If she’s lucky. Lesson learned.

Composite Metal

August 31, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

Mary: “Isn’t this that Megadeth guy?”

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

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

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

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

Shop Boy’s:

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

You get the idea.

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

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

Mary: “I’m going to go.”

Well.

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

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

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

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

“Oh, I like that one,” Mary chirped.

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

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

And so she did. Mary and the metalheads.

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

Next!

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

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

“Who’s Steve?” he snapped.

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

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

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

Apparently …

Makeup counter, here I come.

Defying Description

August 2, 2010

Typecast Press, chasing off potential customers since …

Well, last weekend.

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

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

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

Sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh … um … uh …

And she laughed.

And laughed.

And patted Shop Boy on his silly old head.

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

Workin’ on the Railroad

July 28, 2010

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

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

Other times … well, check this out:

Welcome to Jimmyville.

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

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

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

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

Yeah, it’s incredibly cool.

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

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

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

Sure beats collecting dust.

Have You Seen Me?

July 27, 2010

OK, so I’m blocked.

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

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

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

Dengue Fever?
What About It,
Key West Says

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

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

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

$2M Lotto
Winner:
Can You
Spare It?

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

A Flash in the Can

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

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

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

Quantum Physiques

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

Good Intentions Pave the Road From Hell

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ll know in a few days, I expect.

WK-RIP in Cincinnati

June 30, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

Been a while, eh, Shop Boy?

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

Well.

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

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

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

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

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

Guess we’ll never know.