Posts Tagged ‘Steve St. Angelo’

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.

 

Suckers for Punishment

March 31, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fox Hunting

March 24, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… Or Die Tryin’

January 6, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

boister_cast-a-net

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Little bits. Really, really little bits.

And that’s probably enough said about it.

 

 

 

 

 

Give Us a Sign

June 24, 2016

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

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

a_ice cream

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

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

a_princesses

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

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

And there we are.

a_door

 

One Shop Stopping

April 1, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

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!

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!

The Sign

March 24, 2011

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

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

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

“Are you the Grim Reaper?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The woman grinned. Then she was gone.

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

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

Whew.