Posts Tagged ‘Typecast’

Give Us a Sign

June 24, 2016

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

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

a_ice cream

Our sign didn’t need to be anything flashy, just something that creates a feeling of permanence, if there ever were such a thing. Shop Boy ponders the question a lot: How long will we be doing this printing thing? Not to get all existential or anything, but Shop Boy left the “boy” section of life behind several decades ago. (I did have to outrun a mugger a few days ago, so it’s not all gone yet.) Wouldn’t it be fun some day to be that little old dude outside a print shop grinning by a sign that reads “established 1843” or whatever?

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


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

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

And there we are.



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.


Getting in on the Ground Floor

September 8, 2011

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

Bob Cicero of Globe Poster has another name for me:

The Mouse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Mouse Is Proofing Your Cat.”

Seven Figures

May 2, 2008

Talk about Typecast.

So, Hollywood decides at last to tell part of Shop Boy’s life story and casts (drum roll) … Will Smith. Yeah, I know. Nice thinking outside the box, guys. Sure, I’m tall, athletic, with a deep voice and I’m smooth with the ladies. But Hollywood’s about fantasy, not Shop Boy’s day-to-day humdrum studliness. Really, just check the photo at right.


And about that working title: Seven Pounds.

I mean, was 7,000 Pounds taken? Nothing in the letterpress printshop weighs only 7 pounds. Dang. Do your homework, people.

What? Did I lose you?

Oh, OK. So the other day, Mary sees a little note on her letterpress geek listserv.

It seems that a fellow believer in all things letterpress had been asked to serve as a technical adviser for a movie called Seven Pounds that’s in production at Columbia Pictures in Hollywood. It’s about a young woman (Rosario Dawson) with health problems who has a printing business. She has a Heidelberg Windmill and a broken-down old Miehle Vertical that she calls “The Beast.” Out of nowhere, a guy (ahem, Mr. Smith) shows up with an offer to fix “The Beast.” He restores the press and wins her heart.

Hmm. The Beast, you say? Windmill?


Looks like somebody’s cribbing from Shop Boy’s blog for their screenplays.

Anyway, look for Shop Boy on the red carpet come Oscar time 2009. I’ll be the dude everyone wants to talk to about residuals.

You know … like all those grease stains on the rug.

Sue me.

Roomie With a View

April 4, 2008

Is that a Miehle vertical in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?

Now Shop Boy has known a few thieves in his life, but only one person who could probably hide a printing press in his jacket. That would be John, a bright, streetwise smart aleck and my college roommate during our freshman and sophomore years. Funny dude. But we couldn’t go anywhere without him, um, snatching a souvenir. Health club? “I’m gonna ice me a racquet, Jack!” When Shop Boy protested, John would flash the special hand signal: “Don’t be a big (wimp).”

One day, John strutted out of a sporting goods store in his baby blue velour track suit with the handle of a purloined racquetball racket sticking out of his pants — the tag dangling over his butt, swear to god — and nobody batted an eye. When it comes to stealing, some people just “have it.”

After two years, though, Shop Boy’d “had it.” Oh, I don’t know. The rubbing alcohol-fueled bonfire in our room one night might have been the clincher on that deal. But I switched majors … and dorms. With no one left to torment, John dropped out of college shortly afterward.

And Shop Boy went to the opposite extreme: Kevin, for whom Shop Boy would be a bit of a drain. He preferred jogging and studying to a cold beer before the first class of the morning. Pop-Tarts and a brewski? Not Kevin: Orange juice and an open book.

He thus graduated early, leaving my side of the suite open to the freshman little brother — they hated each other, but mom insisted — of the guy who played electric guitar so badly next door. “Heartbreaker” by Led Zeppelin. Six months of it. Oh man. Guy was no Jimmy Page. More Beavis and Butt-head:

Da … da … da … dadada … dadadadada … da … dadada …

See what Mary missed?

Mary didn’t have a roommate in college. Shop Boy was — gasp! — her first roommate other than her younger sister. But between four older sisters (five total) and the aforementioned roommates, I’d been house trained by then.

So Mary has barely an inkling of what a cool roommate Chris Hartlove is. Our photographer suitemate is the guy who opened his doors to our first little 1,200-pound bundle of joy. Who sacrificed half of his space so Typecast Press could be born. Who has let us monopolize his studio with our spillover during the many rehab projects. Who has now offered more of his space for stray letterpress stuff and to let our idea for a lounge(!) move forward. And who, fyi, would be all over the Pop-Tarts and brewski for breakfast idea.

But even snug in the cubbyhole that used to be his darkroom, with a dedicated work table his only demand for the rest of his studio, Chris has boundaries. On the day the Heidelberg windmill showed up, he looked at Shop Boy. “That’s your last press, right?” Chris asked, adding sternly: “I ain’t leaving.”

Point taken.

Mary: “I don’t know why Chris feels like we’re trying to crowd him out.”

I mean, she even bought him a Typecast Press lab coat so he’d feel like part of the team.

And she was really taken aback when, as we returned from a trip to Virginia to look over yet another press, Chris greeted us with: “OK, how big is this one?”

Shop Boy patted him on the shoulder and reassured him. “It’s OK, we got outbid.”

“I ain’t leaving,” he said.

Shop Boy got him a beer and decided he should tell Mary about a couple of guys he once knew …

And to lay in some Pop-Tarts.

Letterpress List No. 29: Enter the Jiggler

April 1, 2008

The first time we tangled, Shop Boy barely lived to tell about it. Apparently, I’d underestimated my smaller opponent. From my knees, bowed if unbroken, I made a silent vow that it would not happen again.

(And somewhere in the distance, a gong sounds.)

Yes, Shop Boy made a blood oath to never, ever again mess with the paper jogger, a crazy old electric contraption that hums and vibrates to, it is said, get many sheets of paper perfectly aligned so you cut them evenly. (I can’t even look at it without thinking of a 1940s image of housewives standing with big belts around their waists that were supposed to jiggle away the fat.

Shop Boy started calling it the Jiggler … and eventually Mary stopped sharply correcting me.)

You’d probably underestimate this thing, too. It’s maybe 16 inches long and 12 inches wide, less than a foot high. It sits on steel springs and has a wooden top. Oh, and it has a million pounds or so of cast iron in its body.

Was cast iron, like, free or something back then? Geez.

You should have heard the excitement in Mary’s voice when she called one day to say she’d found the jogger in an old Baltimore printshop. Shop Boy thought she’d lost her marbles. (Of course, that’s the default setting by now.)

Shop Boy: “It does what, now?”

Mary: “Trust me, we neeeeed this.”

So we got it. Then it almost got me.

A simple act, Shop Boy thought. Pick up the jogger from the floor and set it upon a workbench by the guillotine paper cutter. Without too much thought (hush!), Shop Boy bent, grabbed and stood.

Now, if you’ve watched the Olympic weightlifting competitions, you know what these strongmen do when they realize they’ve bitten off way more than they can chew. They drop the bar and jump back, getting their limbs out of the crumple zone. Doing so here would very likely have destroyed the machine, breaking Mary’s heart. So that option was out for Shop Boy — no Olympic weightlifter but a guy with a Herculean fear of failure and/or humiliation that has driven him to a few spectacular, if occasionally dumb, displays of strength. (Look, I never said I was the brains of the operation.)

Instead, Shop Boy leaned forward, put his forehead against the wall as a brace of sorts and slowly, slowly, slowly sank to his knees — as his hairline receded — extending his arms until the springs mercifully touched the floor. Then Shop Boy stood up, made sure there were no witnesses, kicked himself and went to get a hand truck.

And when, with great effort, the jogger had finally been set in its place, Shop Boy was done with it.

It was where it would be. Eternally. Period. End of backache.

Well, you know how if you move one piece of furniture in your living room, suddenly everything has to be shuffled? Mary gets a new, bigger, better guillotine installed in the other half of the Typecast Press studio space and decides that it only makes sense that this is where the jogger should now reside.

Must … Remember … Oath.

Sigh. Shop Boy shuffled glumly off to get the hand truck and get it over with. Then it hit him: the “turtle.”

Now this object you’d never take lightly, believe me. It’s a steel, perfectly flat-topped table set on cast-iron (of course) legs and hard rubber wheels. It’s designed to help move heavy type forms from where they’re set up over to the press for the actual printing. Rolling thunder. I mean loud. But what was one more flurry of decibels in the racket of an old printshop?

We’d picked up the turtle a while back as a throw-in on the Miehle press. As in, it hadn’t been used in 30 years, weighed a ton and was in the way of progress. The negotiations went something like this: “That hunk of junk? It is all yours. Get it out of here.”

And thus the Jiggler was about to meet its match. By lowering a corner at a time, Shop Boy eased the jogger onto the turtle and we were off — loudly — down the hall. In a matter of minutes, if not without a little more effort, the jogger was where it would be.

Eternally. Period. End of …

Oh, forget it.


Letterpress List No. 29

How about an hour’s worth of music appropriate for when you’re applying ice to strained areas? Light favorites? Forget it. This is the Land of Letterpress, where we like it heavy and only the strong survive. Or something …

Most of the tunes should be available in the usual places. Goofy or great videos are from YouTube.

StrongmanLuscious Jackson (Standing by a strong woman.)
Hurt — Nine Inch Nails (This still kills Shop Boy.)
I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That) Meat Loaf (Go ahead, call Shop Boy a wimp. Besides, check this out and tell me if this isn’t what Glenn Danzig would look like if he stopped working out and hit Satan’s all-you-can-eat buffet.)
Comfortably NumbPink Floyd (Can you show me where it hurts?)
Nothing Else MattersMetallica (OK, but it’s a power ballad.)
MistachuckChuck D (Even his voice got muscles in it.)
Don’t Be Stupid Shania Twain (Absurd and ridiculous, maybe …)
How Bad Do You Want It?Don Henley (Badly enough, apparently.)
Move It On Over George Thorogood (Bad to the bones.)
Good Vibrations
the Beach Boys (Mary insists.)
Shake It Upthe Cars (Where has the time gone?)
Sabotagethe Beastie Boys (The only explanation.)
The Impression That I Getthe Mighty Mighty Bosstones (Knock on wood.)
Money for NothingDire Straits (Oh, that’s how you do it.)
I Like to Move It, Move ItReel 2 Real — and from “Madagascar” (Just this once … maybe twice.)
Happy Together the Turtles (Strength in numbers.)
Gonna Make You Sweat
C+C Music Factory (The fat lady sings … just not in the video.)

Set Off

March 27, 2008

Every four-letter word Shop Boy knows, he learned from his mother.

Which is kind of funny, based on her late-in-life disassociation with any sort of rough or racy language. She wouldn’t go near a movie that she guessed had lots of harsh dialogue. “I don’t need to hear that,” Mom would say.

Certainly, she’d heard it all before. Mom was an emergency room nurse, so she ran with a pretty tough crowd. Doctors give R.N.s lots of garbage, and the life-and-death atmosphere of the ER creates an enormous amount of tension. But the nurses can’t let patients see their anger and frustration. (At least they shouldn’t.) So, they take it outside, where they smoke, fume and — oh, you betcha — swear their heads off.

As the third anniversary of Mom’s death arrives this week, I can think of a few sets of ears that are probably still red over her own rough — never racy — dialogue from those earlier days. She picked her spots, but she could really bring the noise.

Shop Boy’s been thinking about her a lot lately. And one of the weird things that struck me is how much more I curse than she ever did, even in her hey (@#$%&*!) day. I mean, Shop Boy doesn’t curse in this blog and gets the point across, right? OK, sometimes. Geez. Work with me here.

Anyway, maybe that was Mom’s secret: She knew that an unexpected F-bomb can have the impact of 25 while 25 F-bombs in the span of, say, 50 words just get you tuned out. So Shop Boy’s been trying to cool it a bit.

Which brings us to last Sunday night.

We got a call that Woodberry Kitchen, a local restaurant that Typecast Press does printing for — you can’t get a reservation these days (we like to think we played a small role in that, of course) — needed a fresh supply of menus. With all the changes that the chef, Spike Gjerde, makes to match the seasonal availability of stuff, the restaurant churns through a lot of menus. We letterpress the shell, and Mary has set up Spike’s co-owner and wife Amy with a file for changing the lineup. Then Amy runs the menus through a huge copier.

Well, you know how it goes. The restaurant gets popular, you’re running around refreshing the food, linen, flatware and booze supplies and you forget to check the stock of menus. Then Spike has a brainstorm. Uh-oh.

This time, I decided to really crank out a ton of extra menus so we could hold a bunch back for just such emergencies. We’d cut paper for about 900, so that sounded about right. The big Chandler & Price clamshell does a nice job on them, but of course it’s hand-fed. At two colors and at a rate of about 300 an hour (the menus are 12″x12″ and a little bit slick, so why rush it?), that’s about six hours of lift-bend-lift-turn-repeat. But Shop Boy was determined.

At one point, Mary walked into the studio, examined an enormous pile of drying menus and asked if maybe Shop Boy should take a break. No way!

“God, Shop Boy, you are so goal-oriented,” she huffed.

Which is probably why God and Shop Boy end up being mentioned in the same sentence. I’m just saying …


Well, just as Shop Boy was patting himself on the back — whoops! Misfeed. A sheet of paper jumped the guide and fell beneath the press and, quicker than you can say “fiddlesticks,” the tympan had black ink all over it. Good golly, if you’ve ever inked the tympan, the waxy paper that holds your guides and the sheets of packing that you use to adjust impression depth, you know what’s next.

Phooeey! Or to be more precise …

@#*$%&*$%#@, @#*$%&*$%#@-ING @##$*%*#@$-ER!

Yes, it means an offset — a shadow on the back side of every darn thing you print from here to infinity. All right, not quite that long. Your only choice is to get it off there. With black ink, that’s easier said than done. We don’t like using press wash to clear it, as that’s not real good for you or the environment, can also stain future pieces of paper, takes a while to dry completely and the moisture can change the depth of your packing after you’ve spent all that time getting it just so.

Instead, we buff it off with a rag. A total pain.

At that moment, Shop Boy was so mad at himself for losing his concentration that he could have put his head in the machine and turned it on.

I swear …

Letterpress List No. 28: Hands Down

March 25, 2008

Cutting paper with a guillotine is a one-person job, sayeth the wise old (eight-fingered) printer.

All the modern safety features in the world can’t save you, for instance, if you decide at the last second that the paper’s crooked and your partner picks the same moment to drop the blade. The only hands moving around that razor-sharp guillotine should be the ones attached to the brain operating the machine.

Is Shop Boy being clear here?


OK, I’m still a little uneasy around the 1950s-vintage Chandler & Price Craftsman hydraulic cutter that Mary recently added to our stable of guillotines. (I’m telling you, if the French Revolution suddenly breaks out, Typecast Press is ready to, um, help remove the heads of state.) We already had two manual guillotines, one that my brother-in-law Dan Laorenza — a printing guy by trade — sold me to get us started and another, older, larger job that Mary deemed too beautiful to pass up. (Sigh.)

The manuals take some muscle, which usually means Shop Boy has to stand around while Mary frets and tweaks the stacks of paper. Then I step in, screw down the paper clamper, throw off the safety latch — it prevents the arm and blade from descending when you don’t want them to — and whump! Then I stand around some more. Wait a minute … didn’t I just say that this is a one-person job?!?!

It’s truly better to be lucky than smart, sayeth the 10-fingered numbskull.

For one difficult cutting assignment — as I’ve said before, it’s high math sometimes — Mary and Shop Boy did this little dance for six hours. All to create 150 save-the-date cards. We were pretty edgy by the end.

And the mouths of the two manual cutters are relatively narrow — 21 inches on one and about 25 inches on the other — severely limiting the size of the paper sheet that can be cut. This is a big issue, as it’s often much, much cheaper to buy paper in large sheets, then cut them down. Mary once found a sale on really nice, thick paper that came in a roll that was 44 inches by 10 meters. It came all tightly rolled and fought like the heavyweight it was, threatening at any moment to entomb Shop Boy as he used an X-acto knife to slice it into manageable pieces.

So, yeah, Mary is right. We needed the Craftsman and its much wider jaws. But could she have found a cleaner machine? Sheesh.

Actually, we should give a Shop Boy Shout-out here to Tim Benas, the cutter’s previous owner. Not only did he show up to offer Mary a lesson in how to operate the Craftsman but he also brought two extra blades — and installed a freshly sharpened one! After that act of kindess, how can Shop Boy complain about having to clean off the normal grunge associated with printing machinery?

(Because that’s what I do.)

Mary was going to have Katrina, an intern from Villa Julie College who’s been working with her one day a week, clean the bugger. Katrina is clearly a lot smarter than Shop Boy, but will pay dearly at some point for her cleverness in ducking the assignment. I’ve got nearly 200 rusty, dusty job trays … oh, heck, you know Shop Boy’ll end up doing those, too. (Sigh squared.)

So over the weekend, Shop Boy grabbed the non-detergent motor oil, some fine-grade steel wool, a grease cutter, a razor blade and some rags and got to work. The cutter had been moved on a rainy day, leading to rust on the bed, the perfectly smooth steel surface that holds the paper. Oil and elbow grease made pretty quick work of that.

Next were the stickers all over the front of the machine, ads for this and that service preferred by the previous printshops. Mary had fallen in love with the logo — “The Chandler & Price Co.” with lightning bolts on either side, very cool — so Shop Boy decided to surprise her by getting all the stickers off. No surprise: This would be harder than you could imagine.

Then there’s the fear factor. Shop Boy would rather eat worms or swim with sharks than tangle with the business end of this thing. But greasy gunk on the machine means greasy gunk on the paper. No getting around it.

The blade looks scarier than anything, but it’s probably not what’s going to get you, though I lost a few layers of skin wiping some dirt off a smaller blade with a paper towel. Look, Shop Boy can learn from his mistakes, but he’s got to make them first, right?

Now the clamp bar … that’s the mangler. It drops first, locking the stack of paper in place. This is what will crush your fingers. Then comes the blade. (At this point, of course, you might as well just leave your mashed digits where they are and let the blade finish the job. Save the doctor a few minutes.) Anyway, the cutter was in a giving — not a taking — mood. So Shop Boy came through fine and it was gleaming. OK, as gleaming as a 50-year-old workhorse can be. And the smile on Mary’s face when she saw it …

Shop Boy’d give a finger or two for that.


Letterpress List No. 28

How about an hour’s worth of music to degrease — or cut paper — by. Of course, if you’re using an old manual cutter, you’re going to need a longer list. Sorry. Most of these tunes should be available in the usual places. Goofy or great videos are from YouTube.

Real Live Bleeding FingersLucinda Williams (Not today …)
Chop Suey! System of a Down (Band’s music cuts through grime … and bone. Even in Legovision.)
Still Not a PlayerBig Punisher (Just, um, “crushes” a lot.)
Once Bitten Twice ShyGreat White (My, my, my. These guys know a little about tragic mistakes.)
Killer QueenQueen (Let them eat cake, she said — just like Marie Antoinette.)
Some Heads Are Gonna Roll Judas Priest (Three guillotines … no waiting!)
Uncle Albert/Admiral HalseyPaul McCartney (Hands across the water, not across the cutting zone. Safety first.)
Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could SeeBusta Rhymes (Okey-dokey.)
Le DangerFrancoise Hardy (French chanteuse. Sexy song in any language.)
The Fight SongMarilyn Manson (Temper, temper …)
What’s the Matter ManRollins Band (Are you wrapped too tight?)
Demon CleanerKyuss ( ;-) )
Bad Habitthe Dresden Dolls (Cutter’s anthem.)
Cutthe Cure (Obviously not about hair management.)
Rip It Out Ace Frehley (When Shop Boy was a teen, he owned the air-drum solo to this.)
MachineheadBush (Don’t hate him because he took Gwen Stefani from us.)
One U2 (OK, Shop Boy, we get it.)


Oh, and while I’ve got you here, this is your chance to be the first on your subway car to check out my other blog, Unattended Items. It’s about commuting, natch.

Letterpress List No. 27: Dulcinea

March 18, 2008

There Shop Boy goes, opening his big blog mouth again.

He should know better by now: Anyone could be reading this. (OK, someone could be reading this. Work with me, people.)

Bruce Baggan of North American Millwright Services was. Rigging’s his game. If it’s really heavy and sitting in our printshop, chances are he or his guys put it there. Bruce has sort of become the patron saint of Typecast Press.

So, fine. I write a little teeny blog entry about taking down a closet to make room for a Heidelberg Windmill, he sees the posting and all of a sudden he’s all like, “We’ll be delivering it on Friday.”

Excuse me? Whatever happened to Shop Boy grieving his loss. Didn’t Bruce know what that closet meant to me? You could hide crazy stuff in there — like the homemade virkotype machine that Mary ordered Shop Boy to rescue from a basement letterpress shop and that she insists we’re going to use someday. Yeah, right, we’re going to print things and then, while the ink is still wet, we’re going to sprinkle the cards or whatever with this powder and send them down a sailcloth conveyor belt and through two toaster ovens while a rubber band spins a leather propeller that blows the extra dust all over the room — just so we can get an “embossed” look.

Man, Shop Boy had buried that thing in the closet. Now …

Better give me a minute.

OK. Where were we? Oh, right.

We had just spent a weekend tearing down a closet, piling its entire contents floor to ceiling and end to end in our suitemate Chris Hartlove’s space (nice), patching the walls, putting up temporary shelves and then, of course, moving all the stuff back, carrying the last box over at a little after 12 on Sunday night.

Now we had to do it all over again, with the added pleasure of disassembling and relocating a 10-foot stack of loaded flat files that blocked the double doors from opening fully, which we’d need to happen in order to get the press into the studio.

Shop Boy doesn’t want to seem like he’s whining — oh, hush — but this progress thing is really setting back my beauty sleep. Hush!

Anyway, the Heidelberg Windmill is a pretty nifty contraption. The press gets its name from the motion its arms use to move paper from the unprinted pile to the platen (where the impression is made) and then to the finished pile. A large silver shield at eye level stops the operator from leaning too close and ending up finished as well.

All of the adjustments that we do on the older presses with tape, wrenches, packing and endless tweaking are done on the Heidelberg with a few knob twists. And for registering multicolor jobs, the press is said to be a whiz. (Or, as Bruce Baggan says, “Woo-hoo! Typecast Press has just come roaring into the ’50s.” He’s a kidder.)

The Windmill is also incredibly tippy when moved. Think of a bowling ball balanced on the head of 10 pin. Or a 3,000-pound printing press, whose top half is about twice as wide as its base, balanced on a pallet jack — with only a little more than 1 inch sitting on each fork. Ooh.

Now picture this: Three guys coaxing this thing off a loading dock, over a threshold and down a long hallway, then turning it through a door and into position, all while constantly kicking a wooden block under the press from behind in case the whole mess collapses. Mary made me watch … she couldn’t. Believe me, Shop Boy just stood in awe, cell phone in hand (a 9 and a 1 already dialed), as these dudes pushed and pulled this off.

Finally, Shop Boy hollered to Mary to come OK the position, then the guys started lowering the press to the floor. At the risk of boring you — hush! — with procedure, it is mind-blowing to witness the process of lowering a printing press from 6 inches off the ground to the floor. It won’t go straight from the pallet jack (no clearance). Instead, you put it up on blocks, in this case stacks of 4×4 and 2×4 boards. Next, you take a long steel bar, put a board under it for height, then use it as a lever to lift the edge of the press ever so slightly. A taller board is replaced with a shorter one, the steel bar is slowly released, and the press is a bit closer to the floor. Repeat this on the other side and keep working your way down, alternating stacks. Wow.

So there it sat. Until Mary noticed that it maybe should be a little farther from the wall, as some adjustments and cleaning must be performed while standing behind the Heidelberg. No problem, the guys said, as two stood and grabbed the sides while the crew’s leader, John, one resourceful and determined dude, sat with his back against the wall and began pushing with his legs.


Uh-oh …

The Sheetrock that Tom Beal, Mary’s brother-in-law, had so tirelessly and masterfully patched loudly let go. Shop Boy groaned. When John apologized, I told him not to worry about it. Tom is a large man but would probably make the death painless.

John looked back at the hole, the outline of his body traced in gypsum if not chalk, and reassured Shop Boy: “I can run faster scared than he can run mad.”

Good to know.


Letterpress List No. 27

On that note, how about a little music to run — or, heck, patch Sheetrock — by. Here are about an hour’s worth of tunes, most of which should be available at the usual places. Goofy or great videos are from YouTube.

Extraordinary MachineFiona Apple (Liking Fiona Apple doesn’t make Shop Boy less of a man. Just FYI.)
Movin’ Out Billy Joel (Watching presses move could give you a heart attack-ack-ack-ack.)
Don’t Dream It’s OverCrowded House (Mary swears this is the last letterpress she’ll ever need. Right.)
The Weightthe Band (Put the load right on me.)
Rust Never SleepsNeil Young (Did I mention the Heidelberg needs a little, um, cleaning? Get in line, pal.)
Push ItSalt-N-Pepa (Ooh.)
High VoltageElectric Six (Danger, danger!)
Feel Good Inc.Gorillaz (Windmill, windmill for the land … steady, watch me navigate, ha-ha-ha-ha-ha. Shop Boy does love this song.)
SlamOnyx (Beavis and Butt-head approved.)
Shake MeCinderella (Kicking the walls … and OD-ing on the hair products!)
Original Pranksterthe Offspring (Knock down the place.)
Somebody Pick Up My PiecesWillie Nelson (What I thought was heaven is just falling debris.)
Roll With It Steve Winwood (Oh, well.)
Pump It Up Elvis Costello (Looks like Elvis has had a press or two dropped on his feet.)
Heavy Metal Sammy Hagar (A one-way ticket to midnight. Believe it.)
The Impossible DreamMan of La Mancha (Tilting at windmills … hee-hee. Get it? Geez …)


Psst. Did you hear Shop Boy’s got a new commuter blog? Check it out.

Sugar Mama

March 13, 2008

One day, Typecast Press‘s chief investor called a shareholders meeting.


Mary’s mom wanted to know how her money was being spent.

Now, Mary’s mom — also Mary Mashburn — is known as the Fairy Godmother of the Arts in Colorado Springs, Colo., where she turned the Imagination Celebration from an annual festival into a year-round cultural juggernaut that put art back into the schools and the mall and, well, everywhere that children are likely to be.

Mama’s also a former military wife who learned to pick up and move the family every three years or so, always looking forward to the new adventure rather than moaning about leaving friends and familiarity behind. Mary still gushes about her mom’s ability to make word of a reassignment seem like the most exciting news in the world. With one exception: Mama cried when she neared the city limits of a slushy, late-winter Duluth, Minn., having left behind a base house on a California mountaintop overlooking San Francisco and Oakland. Ouch. Still, Mary says, thanks to her mom, the three years in Duluth became a cherished childhood memory.

See, Mary’s mom knows the value of the little touches, like hanging curtains in a barren new space. Turning “you are here” into “you are home.” She’s helped instill in three generations the excitement of learning new things, whether it’s a tyke’s first fun with finger-painting or a big kid’s halting initial steps toward operating a 3-ton letterpress.

So Mama can understand the fun of assembling what is fast becoming the Pee-wee’s Playhouse of printshops. She thinks it’s great that building Typecast Press has brought us joy and that Shop Boy sweats to give her daughter a cool place to work.

But, as the former head of a nonprofit, Mama also knows how to stretch a dime until it snaps back as a quarter. While expressing her admiration at our acquisitions phase, she wondered whether any plans might be in place for, ahem, returning dividends to stockholders.


Mary and Shop Boy reassured Mama that we had formed a committee to study her brilliant idea. We said that the lovely stationery we’d printed for her (in her favorite color, blue) constituted at least part of a dividend, right? And then we simply said, “Thank you.”

We think she bought it.


See Shop Boy’s commuter blog at

Letterpress List No. 26: Spacing Out

March 11, 2008

When the final board had been torn from the wall, the final nail pulled, the last bit of Sheetrock scrapped and all that remained was a bare corner of the Typecast Press studio, Shop Boy stood back a moment and shook his head in wonder.

They just don’t build them like that anymore.

I’m talking about the closet we tore down this weekend, but could just as easily be complimenting Tom Beal, Typecast Press’ ace in the hole. (Mary’s got a few up her sleeve, folks. Believe it.) Anyway, we’ve talked up Tom before. Mary’s lumberjack of a brother-in-law parachutes into Baltimore every now and again with her sister Melissa to help with big jobs and fix the unfixable — machines that Shop Boy has begged Mary not to buy. So, sure, he’s made me look like a namby-pamby wimp at times. But who hasn’t, right?

Well, by the time he’d gone home, Typecast Press had a fully functional hydraulic paper cutter, a functional Miehle vertical printing press (“fully” once we get rollers) and floor space for a Heidelberg windmill press, the next big unit that Shop Boy asked Mary to step away from.

To make room, a storage closet had to come down. And it did, grudgingly and loudly coaxed toward oblivion with a wrecking bar — $10 worth of coercion — a hammer and maybe a wrench or two. Built to last, the closet was. The reinforcements were reinforced. But by Saturday afternoon, there was Tom, the king of schmunder (as he calls spackling or joint compound), erasing any remaining evidence of the closet. A coat of paint and you truly will never know it was there.

Not that Shop Boy should be too surprised. Tom built his own house in New Hampshire, makes machines that don’t speak the same language work together seamlessly and is now prepping for a journey to Ghana on a mission to spread the craft of creating chevron beads. Once he gets out of traction, that is.

How do you say “thank you” in Ghanaian? Whatever it is, Shop Boy, as usual, can’t say it enough. Bon voyage, bud.


Letterpress List No. 26

OK, how about an hour’s worth of music to push, pull, prod, yank, slam — or simply clean up — by. Most of these tunes should be available at the usual places. Oh, and if you haven’t had enough of Shop Boy, check out his new blog, Unattended Items.

Dust in the WindKansas (Mary made us mummify the entire studio before the first hammer swung.)
Crawling From the WreckageDave Edmunds (Just because.)
Can’t Touch This — MC Hammer (Nice work pants.)
Let the Bodies Hit the FloorDrowning Pool (For Tom, listening mostly while upside-down beneath some machine or other.)
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap AC/DC (Ha-ha!)
Working for the Weekend — Loverboy (Vacation, Typecast Press style.)
Iron Fist Motorhead (Punching through.)
Monkey WrenchFoo Fighters (Finesse is for wimps.)
Feuer Frie!Rammstein (Bang, bang.)
Between the Hammer and the Anvil Judas Priest (Speaking of closets …)
Goliaththe Mars Volta (Just … weird.)
VicariousTool (And this band knows weird.)
RumpshakerWreckx-N-Effect (For Mary. Couldn’t stop myself.)
Closet ChroniclesKansas (Destiny is done.)
HeroFoo Fighters (There he goes again.)

Letterpress List No. 25: A Rare Slice

March 4, 2008

Mary’s always been a little disappointed that Shop Boy knows so little about his people:

“Dad, are we Italian?”

“No,” answered Shop Boy’s father — Wally St. Angelo — one day long ago. “We’re American.”

End of discussion.

See, where Shop Boy grew up, identifying yourself with a particular ethnic group (Mom was Irish) did nothing but help the local wiseacres better target their barbs. We were your basic melting pot. A milky Caucasian broth to be sure, but quite a mix. (Turns out there was even a Swedish neighborhood, Eden Park. Who knew? I learned this after I’d moved away from Cranston, R.I., when someone from home mentioned something going on in “Sweden Park.” Jeez.)

Is it any wonder, then, that Shop Boy has needed some, um, cultural retraining from time to time. Take Pepe DiNave, Mary’s straight-from-the-old-country neighbor in Newburgh, N.Y., who once handed me a drawing of a squid with dotted lines demarking the cuts of meat (loin, flank, T-bone). Shop Boy was flummoxed at the joke. Pepe and Mary hooted. Or John Ottina, husband of Mary’s cousin Mollie, who skewered me over my knowledge of pasta. (He’d memorized all 8 zillion varieties or whatever.) What do I know from anything? Mom called it all macaroni.

Not that Shop Boy’s real name hasn’t paid off at times. True story: Mary and Shop Boy were visiting Federal Hill, the Italian section of Providence, R.I. Hungry, we’d settled on an authentic-looking little place to grab dinner. We were just approaching the restaurant as the tough-looking woman running it turned away a couple just like us. OK, they were blond. And, yeah, maybe a little WASP-y. But you can’t pick your parents, right?

Disappointed, Mary asked if we could put a name on the waiting list. (Mine, not hers.) As we told her the name, the woman’s eyes lit up. “For you, we have room!” she declared, dashing over to swipe half a table set-up from another blond couple in the corner, setting it up at the center of the floor and throwing a red-checked tablecloth over it. “Now, you sit,” she ordered, as a violin player began to serenade us. Swear to god. You should have seen Mary’s smile.

See, she finds her own, ahem, more thoroughbred lineage sort of dull. So when Mary meets someone with genuine pride of ethnic heritage, she wants to know their story. And if this person happens to be a printer, or the son of a printer, willing to share letterpress knowledge, she’s smitten.

Which is what brought us to Martin’s West, a wedding/prom/banquet palace just off the Baltimore beltway (I-695). This is one of those places where they designed the gargantuan chandeliers first, then simply came up with a frame to hang them from. We were there for the La Buona Vita Bull and Oyster Roast, all because of Vince Pullara III of Inter-City Press, which was founded in 1947. Vince III is a third-generation printer (son of Vince Pullara Jr., now retired from Inter-City and Chesapeake Press) and proud Italian-American who introduced Mary to my new favorite phrase for a hangover, “a sprained liver.”

Mary had met Vince and Vince the usual way — she was in the market for old letterpress stuff. They had it. She asked to pick the stuff up in person so that she could see the printshop. Well, once you let Mary in the door …

It turns out the Pullaras have experience operating The Beast, a Miehle vertical, which Typecast Press has been working toward bringing online. Having no such operating experience, Mary and Shop Boy had been cruising spots frequented by letterpress types, hoping to perhaps abduct an old-timer and, um, persuade him to teach us how the thing works.

Well, this was almost too easy.

For bonus points, Vince III immediately solved a problem we’d been having with the guillotine paper cutter. To wit: When we’d cut a stack of heavy cotton paper, one side of the cut would be left nice and smooth, the other ragged or fuzzy. We’d have to clear the fuzz by hand (every bit as annoying as you’d imagine) and still some of the cards would be unusable.

Vince knew right away what we were doing wrong: “You aren’t back cutting.” See, the front of the blade, even newly sharpened, cuts less clean than the back. So, leave a little extra room in your measurements to make a final trim on each side. Chop, chop. No mess, no fuzz.

Anyway, La Buona Vita is a society that celebrates Italian-American culture while it does good works in the community, and the LBV Bull and Oyster Roast is its big annual fundraiser. What exactly is a bull and oyster roast? We had no idea either, but we were for darn sure going to find out.

So there we were, attacking the raw bar and antipasto, hitting the pit beef, pork and turkey hard and devouring plate after plate of the — what else? — pasta. Vince III’s wife, Heidi, stopped by, telling stories of her husband’s uncanny efficiency in getting projects done, both in the printshop and out, something else Mary and Shop Boy hope eventually to get around to. We partook of the open bar — without injury, it would turn out — yukked it up and danced. Then we went back for dessert. It was the least we could do.

And what a crowd, proud, warm and welcoming, and having a really good time, not put off at all by the Maserati of Baltimore display that greeted us. You know, the letters M.O.B. … subtle.

Much cooler were the polo shirts with the tasteful LBV emblem that Vince III had made up by Inter-City for the guys who run the society to wear for the occasion. Shop Boy asked whether these were for sale. Forget it, Vince said. Members only.

Turns out that everyone’s Italian on LBV Bull and Oyster Roast day, but not everybody’s that Italian.


Letterpress List No. 25

Time for about an hour’s worth of music to … oh, memorize pasta types by. Or to check out my other blog by. ;-) Most tunes should be available in the usual places. Videos are from YouTube.

Scenes From an Italian Restaurant Billy Joel (It all depends upon your appetite.)
Who Are You?the Who (What do I look like, a genealogist?)
I’m a ManChicago (And that’s good enough for Shop Boy)
Oh Methe Meat Puppets (Nirvana did a great cover.)
Danny BoyHouse of Pain (For the Gilloglys, Martins, Gaulins, O’Haras and my mom’s people, the Dempsters.)
Hungry Like the Wolf
Duran Duran (Australian … that’s sorta like really, really, really southern Italian, right? Paisans!)
Hunger StrikeTemple of the Dog (Yeah, right. Gimme more!)
Jenny From the BlockJennifer Lopez (Not forgetting where she came from … Ha!)
Meat Is Murder the Smiths (Let me be guilty.)
Too Much Pork for Just One ForkSouthern Culture on the Skids (Mmmmm, tasty.)
The First Cut Is the DeepestSheryl Crow (The second’s just as tasty.)
Sheer Heart Attack Queen (Hey-hey-hey-hey, it was the DNA.)
Eat to the BeatBlondie (Faster, faster.)
Days Gone BySlaughter (Every hair band needs a wimpy ballad, eh?)
Cold GinKiss (Did I say wimpy?)
The Great American Melting PotSchoolhouse Rock (Room for all.)
That’s AmoreDean Martin, aka Dino Paul Crocetti (Loved it. Thanks, La Buona Vita.)

Oh, Henry!

February 28, 2008

Here’s how Shop Boy thought the card would read:

“Emily and Josh Morrow request your presence at a celebration to mark the acceptance of their gifted son, Henry Sumner Morrow, to the University of Tennessee on full academic and football scholarships for the Autumn 2025 semester.”

Here’s how it actually ended up reading:

“Happy Valentine’s Day from the newest little heartbreaker in the family tree. (Can you tell he’s been keeping us busy?)”


We got a baby announcement done before the kid reached puberty.

If you’ve ever done work for a friend — for pay — then you can understand why it’s taken Shop Boy so long to tell this story. I was basically terrified. See, Henry was born about a month before we even started talking about a birth announcement. Emily’s a graphic designer and illustrator and had been a favorite co-worker at the Baltimore Sun (she’s also a Tennessee kid who can reaaallly turn on the southern accent). Anyway, Shop Boy had talked and talked and talked about Typecast Press — does this surprise anyone? — and Emily wanted to give us some business.

First twinge.

See, it’s hard enough working for strangers whose weddings, party invitations and even business cards mean the world to them. We respect that. We want what we put in your hands to be … magic, you know?

Now, add in the fact that it’s an adored friend having her first baby, meaning this birth announcement becomes part of family history. Heck, if the kid becomes president, this card could be in the Smithsonian. You never know, right?

Second twinge.

Ah, but Shop Boy has an ace up his sleeve: Mary. See, as tends to happen, Emily got distracted with her baby, learning to be a mom, traveling to show him off and all that stuff. And time passed. The illustration she’d intended to do for the card? Wasn’t going to happen — though the rough draft was really neat.

So, Mary got creative. Henry’s first Christmas card? Too late for that. Happy New Year from Henry? Too tight a deadline. (It’s the holidays, man. Everybody wants something.) So, Valentine’s Day!

Do I go on too much about Mary? Tough. This was a great save. You should see it — and you will if I can figure out a link. We loved it, Emily loved it, and some day the Smithsonian will love it, or at least the University of Tennessee Football Hall of Fame will. Go get ’em, Henry.



Haven’t had enough of Shop Boy or his alter ego? Here’s some great news: Unattended Items is a freshly minted blog just across the hall from this one. It’s about the commuter culture. You know, the bad things we do to one another in the name of getting to work on time. (It’s so new I haven’t even come up with a nickname for myself. Transit Boy? Yuck.)

Anyway, if you commute, I’m guessing you’ll see yourself in some of these stories.

And perhaps you’ll promise never to do that … um, that … ooh, and especially not that ever again.

Even if you don’t commute, I’m hoping you might like the stories. Meanwhile, thanks for reading Impressions of a Shop Boy. And stay tuned: I’ve got so much more to tell you.

But enough about me … for now.

Letterpress List No. 24: Old Yeller

February 26, 2008

It is said that women’s eyes are more perceptive to color; men’s to light. Something about women having more “cone cells” in their eyes while men have more “rod cells.” Which makes a certain biological sense.

From the earliest days of humans, men have been able to find things to kill, even in the dark. And women have been able to look over the carcass in the light of day and decide by its color whether members of the tribe should be putting it in their mouths.

Both handy abilities.

Mary also uses this scientific knowledge on press checks, during which clients requesting an early look get to sign off on the quality of the work before Typecast Press begins the full printing run. Mary has also done plenty of press checks over the years on her design jobs that were printed offset. Anyway, if it’s a female customer, she and Mary tend to concur quickly on the color, then move on. Guy customer or offset printer? “Trust me, buddy,” Mary says, “I see it better than you do.” Mary then moves on.

Shop Boy’s learned the hard way to keep whatever few cones he does have to himself.

For instance, Sunday night we were having a discussion about a color. Brown shade: Pantone 4625 U, the “U” representing how the color appears on “uncoated” paper. (Yes, that’s key.) Mary’s got three Pantone books for different types of paper. These are like paint store “chips” gone crazy. The fan-like books spread out into long, thin fingers, panels that cover the color spectrum and give you the recipe for creating each shade from the basic ink colors. You know, CMYK stands for cyan, magenta (better known as blue and red), yellow and black. Don’t get Shop Boy started on something called “opaque white.”

Well, responding to the light in the room, Mary’s cone cells were reading “too much yellow.” Responding to the clock, which was ticking toward midnight, Shop Boy’s cone cells were reading the color as “spot on.” Knowing his visual handicap, however, Shop Boy shrugged and said nothing. (OK, his complete lack of experience with inks and his desire not to make Mary angry might have had something to do with that, too. Whatever.)

Mary reasoned out loud that adding black would simply darken the color, not subdue the yellow. Maybe some cyan, she decided. A little magenta, too.

Shop Boy wonders sometimes if Mary doesn’t simply like playing with ink. She arranges ink knives all around the glass mixing plate, adds dabs of different colors — like a painter’s palette — then builds a mound of goo at the center that keeps growing and spreading as she adds pigment, tests, adds, tests, adds and tests.

“Yo, c’mon, it’s midnight. Stop fooling around, let’s roll! This is ridiculous! Jeez!” Shop Boy yelled (silently … to himself).

Mary blithely noodled on, the Benihana of ink mixing. (Might add here that Shop Boy does the cleanup on all of this.) Finally, she held aloft a test strip for approval.

“See? I knew it just needed a little bit of something.”

“Oh, yeah. Um. Uh-huh,” Shop Boy nodded, glancing at his wristwatch instead. “I see now.”

Clear as daybreak.


Letterpress List No. 24

So why is Shop Boy humming?

Hey … it’s my birthday!

And even if I’m stuck at work — I wrote this ahead of time, boss … honest — nobody can take away the fact that Shop Boy has cheated the devil for another 365 big ones. Old Beelzebub’s just chillin’, I’m sure, knowing that Typecast Press will be bringing two automated presses and a hydraulic paper cutter online this year. Gulp.

To celebrate, let’s throw on about an hour’s worth of music to plan a party by. Most of these tunes should be available in the usual places. Videos are from YouTube.

Now pass the devil’s food cake.

Birthdaythe Beatles (A lot of the Fab Four lately. Is it getting old?)
BeelzStephen Lynch (Laugh now, pay later.)
All I Wanna DoSheryl Crow (The a.m. beer buzz. Ah, college.)
Let’s Get It StartedBlack Eyed Peas (Get Stupid.)
Bad to the BoneGeorge Thorogood (They could tell right away.)
VacationGo-Gos (Speaking of bad … these girls!)
Sixteen TonsTennessee Ernie Ford (Another day older and deeper in debt.)
Good Old World WaltzTom Waits (For the melancholy that comes with some birthdays.)
Gin and Juice Snoop Dogg (One way to beat the melancholy.)
I Gotta Be MeIggy Pop (Better him than me.)
Rock and Roll Part 2Gary Glitter (A guy who might spend a birthday or two in custody.)
Rock and Roll All Night
Kiss (Wild and crazy.)
Never ThereCake (With vanilla frosting.)
Shout at the Devil — Motley Crue (Hair of the dog … and apparently a few other household pets.)
If I Knew You Were Coming, I’d Have Baked a Cake
Eileen Barton (Hah!)
Happy Birthday
— Marilyn Monroe (So hot you could have baked a cake on her forehead.)
HappySister Hazel (The ride’s been pretty cool.)

Letterpress List No. 23: No Clue

February 19, 2008

A trained monkey could do my job.

Even for Shop Boy, this was hard news to hear. Some years later, time has provided a little perspective. Still …

I could tell by the vocal patterns that the caller to my newspaper at the time, the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, was a senior citizen. Folks like her called all the time with questions about how to write to Ann Landers, how to get the paper delivered a little more gently or why we never wrote “good news.” It wasn’t my job to have the answers, but the calls came nonetheless.

See, for the uninitiated, a newsroom consists of clusters of reporters, editors, artists and interns, none of whom wishes to take your call. If you phone the newspaper, the switchboard operator won’t bother to look up the proper extension but will blindly redirect you. The person who picks up will either handle your question or huffily forward you right back to the switchboard operator, who’ll send it elsewhere. It’s kind of like playing Battleship. When the operator finds an extension that doesn’t bounce right back — a hit — he or she keeps firing calls in that direction.

Well, call me a sucker, because I hated turning these increasingly frustrated people away. Which is how Shop Boy became, among other things, the Crossword Puzzle Editor. If, for instance, someone just couldn’t get the one word that would solve the entire puzzle, I’d say, “Let’s work through it together.” Same with the Jumble or any other puzzle. If we couldn’t find the answer in short order, I’d promise to call back, then I’d go figure it out and, yes, call back. (I even explained the meaning of a comic strip or two.) Well, heck, word of someone giving personalized service gets around.

So when this sweet little old lady on the other end of the line asked for the Crossword Puzzle Editor, I sighed and grabbed that morning’s classifieds section and thumbed through for the right page. She didn’t want to work the puzzle, though. Today’s answers didn’t match yesterday’s puzzle, she said. And she wanted to yell about that. As I struggled to figure out the problem and get her the right answers to the right puzzle, she kept fuming, eventually questioning my right to keep my position as Crossword Puzzle Editor and doubting my abilities to figure anything out. Yes, she dropped the “trained monkey” on me.

Then I did figure it out.

C.P.E.: “Ma’am, I’m very sorry, but I believe you might be looking at the puzzle from the wrong day.”

Caller: “Oh, there’s no way I … um … oh …” Click. She hung up on me.

I redirected the next call back to the switchboard. (Only that one, though, I swear.)

Mary and Shop Boy have never stopped giggling over this, despite how horrible I felt at the time. We even wear a monkey emblem on our Typecast Press lab coats.

OK, that’s also partially in solidarity with Paul Frank, whose company was stolen from him by his non-artistic partners — we, ahem, creative types could stand to learn a thing or two about business, eh? The iron-on patch featuring P.F.’s trademark Julius the monkey is a counterfeit, meaning no money for the bad partners. Bonus points!

True story: We were walking through a shopping district with buddies Lisa Pollak and Chuck Salter during a visit to Chicago a couple of years back. As a pack of young and proud-to-be-buffed cyclists approached, arrogantly hogging the road, Shop Boy spotted a Paul Frank outlet over their tanned shoulders and mentioned it to Mary, who excitedly whirled and shouted “Monkey Face!” — pointing toward the store and, unwittingly, directly at the passing mug of the lead cyclist. He about fell off his bike. Mary had no idea how she’d messed up the poor dude’s self-esteem until Shop Boy could quit howling and explain.

Somewhere the biker is probably giggling too, reminded of the incident by his friends every time they go cycling. Time heals. Perhaps, like the little old lady in Denver, he was humbled just a bit. Maybe Chicago and its streets are better places for it. Imagine … Me Shop Boy, you Mary, we Typecast Press. Making it a little less of a jungle out there.

Now, let’s see a trained monkey do that.


Letterpress List No. 23

Here’s about an hour of tunes to enjoy while doing your job so poorly that a monkey could be trained to replace you. (Apparently, Mary and Shop Boy aren’t the only ones obsessed with chimps.) Most should be available in the usual places.

Punish the MonkeyMark Knopfler (Let the organ grinder go.)
Bungle in the JungleJethro Tull (He who made kittens put snakes in the grass. Deep.)
Another PostcardBarenaked Ladies (Got some shaved chimps — that’s chimps devoid of any hair. Got some depraved chimps dressed up in the women’s underwear.)
I’m a Believerthe Monkees (Then we saw his face … hah! Talk about Smash Mouth.)
Shock the MonkeyPeter Gabriel (Strangely awesome.)
Wishing Well Terence Trent d’Arby (Hugging like a monkey see, monkey do. OK, it’s wimpy …)
Monkey Wrench — the Foo Fighters (There. Manly quotient restored.)
Banana PuddingSouthern Culture on the Skids (What else?)
Jungle BoogieKool and the Gang (Get down.)
Where’s Your Head At?Basement Jaxx (Mostly for the video, though the song’s great too.)
Head GamesForeigner (Just playing.)
Brass MonkeyBeastie Boys (17 Down [six letters, starts with M]: Funky ______.)
Bad TouchBloodhound Gang (Naughty mammals.)
Jungle LoveSteve Miller Band (You probably wouldn’t remember, I probably couldn’t forget … being called Monkey Face.)
Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkeythe Beatles (Your outside is in and your inside is out.)
Happy PhantomTori Amos (Confucius does his crossword with a pen.)
Monkey to ManElvis Costello (Every time man struggles and fails, he makes up some kind of fairy tales.)
If I Had a Million DollarsBarenaked Ladies (Haven’t you always wanted a monkey?)

Stuck on You

February 14, 2008

It was looking like a Valentine’s Day massacre.

Mary had been under the weather and Typecast Press was in a bind. In one day, we needed to print two sets of two-color business cards and produce an emergency order for two-color restaurant menus and coasters. Oh, and Mary had designed two Valentines that needed to be finished … any second!

A crew less accustomed to, um, working on deadline (Mary, Mary, Mary …) might have come unglued. Instead, Shop Boy employed his own time-tested formula, which he discusses in his new book Duress Is Success Spelled Differently: When Now Means NOW! Look for it in better bookstores on … oh, heck. I haven’t written it yet. The deadline is so far off.

Here are the basics.

  • Step 1: Panic (gets it out of the way so you can focus on the task)
  • Step 2: Panic more (just to make sure it took)
  • Step 3: Doubt yourself
  • Step 4: Swear and/or cry; berate yourself for past mistakes in similar situations or for self-inflicted, um, physical imperfections
  • Step 5: Wallow in self-pity
  • Step 6: Issue the Universal Distress Signal
  • Step 7: Wait for someone (Mary!) to jump in and figure it all out
  • Step 8: Most importantly … be grateful and do whatever that someone says.

Piece of cake, right?

OK, so if Shop Boy takes a day off from his day job, and we get up early, and Mary’s feeling a lot better, and we skip meals, and we don’t talk too much, and we play peppy music, and everything breaks just right, and we don’t need to do much make-ready and the weather cooperates …

So we overslept, needed to stop for breakfast, Mary (still a bit fuzzy-headed) had an important lunch date, we always talk too much, there was too much Lucinda Williams on the iPod (love ya, kid, but lighten up!) and suddenly not a single polymer plate would stick to the Boxcar base for the big C&P. Each one had to be massaged endlessly. At one point, Shop Boy suggested we just add pressure to force the issue. (We smashed the plate and had to start over.)

Man, you think you know somebody — or something — and you’re thrown a new wrinkle. In the case of polymer plates, we’ve been the most faithful disciples, spreading the word about how perfect they are. Easier to use than magnesium- or copper-on-wood plates. Cheaper! Take zero space to store. Harder than metal.

Well, they also tend to bend up at the corners between uses, even if you store them carefully. And if those corners refuse to stick to the steel base — no matter how much you plead, press, tape and re-tape them — they keep poking up, touching the rollers, picking up ink and ruining whatever you’re printing. Metal-on-wood plates never do that. (They’re awesome!)

And just like that, something you know to be absolutely so … ain’t necessarily so.

True story: Mary and Shop Boy were camping in New York State, our first such trip together. Mary had been well trained by her dad, Wayne, a seasoned camper and ex-military guy, to assume the role of princess in these situations. So, Shop Boy set about putting up the tent, digging the trench (in case of rain) and unloading the supplies. Mary sat, sipped wine and judged my progress as we went along.

Now it was time to build the fire, a personal specialty. See, where Shop Boy’s from, you build the bonfire, with rocks atop the flames, then use the hot stones to bake lobsters, clams, corn, bluefish, potatoes, etc. We had chicken, but same deal, right? So Shop Boy built a pyramid of wood and stone — you should have seen it — and struck a match. Sweet. Nothing like a fire to cut the cool of an autumn evening. Appropriately impressed, Mary kissed me. And the fireworks went off.

No, really. The super-heated rocks, obviously not made of the same stuff as we had at the beach, began to explode, shelling us with hot chunks as we scrambled for cover, screaming and laughing as we tumbled toward the truck. We cowered behind it as the explosions continued for a good 15 minutes. It was 30 minutes before Shop Boy dared approach the fire pit to clear any unexploded ordnance.

Mary probably should have run in the other direction at this point. Instead, she hugged me and we laughed and laughed. That night, I realized it had to be love. Awwww.

Wait. Where were we? Oh, no love from the polymer plates. Well, all Shop Boy can say is it’s a darn good thing Mary has no respect for the clock. We were going to get this done. Ha! She laughs in the face of 1:30 a.m. Oh, and did I mention the freezing rain? We didn’t even start chiseling the car out of the ice block till then.

Shop Boy, who has a 6 a.m. wakeup call on non-printshop workdays, is a bit less relaxed about keeping late hours.

Oh, well. In for a penny, in for a pounding.


You’ve got to love Valentine’s Day.

A guy sweats all year long to prove his devotion, then drops the ball for one day and it’s all for nothing. But there isn’t a woman Shop Boy would rather disappoint every year than Mary.

Be mine, kitten.

Of course, Mary and Shop Boy will be celebrating a day late — after making the deadline — to keep the disappointment among other valentines to a minimum.

Enjoy the fireworks!

Letterpress List No. 22: Math Is Hard

February 11, 2008

Next, at right Bunsen burner for yoooooo-uuuuur Cranston East Thunderbolts Chemistry Team: No. 51, Shop … BOY! (The crowd goes wild.) “Shop Boy, Shop Boy, rah-rah-ree! S-B is antimony!

Hey, don’t scoff. I could once diagram the chemical equation for why a guy has to pee so often after drinking beer. And why adding water — more liquid! — can slow the process. Of course, that was … ahem … a few beers ago.

Some of the science stuff from high school and college does comes back to me periodically. (Hee-hee! Periodic table, get it? Shop Boy = Sb, No. 51! Antimony! Key ingredient in lead type! Ha-ha-ha! Sorry, smart guy humor. You probably wouldn’t understand.)

Anyway, given that background, you’d think Shop Boy would be a whiz at brain teasers, oh, like mapping out how many business cards could be cut from a big sheet of paper.

Um, uh, not really so much.

I could blame the paper itself. Since it’s often cheaper — and sometimes only possible — to buy fancy paper in a large sheet, called a parent, that’s what we usually do at Typecast Press. These sheets are of course too large to be fed into our guillotine cutter whole. And if you just cut them in half without thinking about the geometry equation, you could really cost yourself some cash. Maybe if you cut a strip that’s one-third the width of the parent, then turn the big sheet and make a smaller trim, you can maximize the number of business cards — or whatevers — that you hope to print. This is essential if you’ve bought the minimum amount of paper to, you know, save some dough.

Then there’s this: You order six sheets at 25.5 inches by 38 inches. They unfailingly arrive as something like 25 7/8″ by 37 7/16″. What’s up with that? The paper company can’t do math, either. Sheesh. So if your business card is 1.5″ x 3.5″, and you’re going to print them two-up — meaning two impressions on one piece of paper, to be cut apart later — how many times and in which direction(s) should the paper be sliced? Oh, and the parent sheet has a deckle edge, like a fringe, which needs to be trimmed away or you’ll have some cards with a crazy edges and others without. And mind the grain!

Yeah, my eyes glaze over too, folks.

So, as usual, anything that requires half a brain falls to Mary, even if she happens to be sick as a dog, like last weekend. She had the flu, but we had a deadline. So she puzzled feverishly, measured, calculated, measured again, then adjusted the guillotine’s guides and a few chops later, that was that.

Shop Boy? Let’s just say Barbie would have been a bigger help on this one.


Letterpress List No. 22

The latest slice: Can we count you in for about an hour’s worth of musical numbers suitable for “measuring twice and cutting once,” a la Wayne Mashburn, Mary’s dad? OK, then. Most of these should be available in the usual places. Great and goofy videos are from YouTube.

Your Number Is OneHenry Rollins (For you there is but one direction.)
Add It Up Violent Femmes (Just about ready to cut it up.)
One — Three Dog Night (Flashback.)
The Black Parade — My Chemical Romance (Emo pets.)
LassooThe Duke Spirit (Nothing to do with the university. Just the Eleanor Lewis special of the day — thanks from Shop Boy, kiddo.)
10 X 10 Yeah Yeah Yeahs (Or is that 9 15/16 X 10 1/8?)
The Number of the BeastIron Maiden (Ooh, that Bruce Dickenson could howl.)
Bad Habit
Dresden Dolls (About cutting — yourself, not class.)
Gimme One ReasonTracy Chapman (Turn around, kid.)
VertigoU2 (“Uno, dos, tres … catorce.” Bono’s inside joke/shout-out.)
Murder By Numbersthe Police (Easy to learn as the ABCs.)
Wonderful WorldSam Cooke (“Don’t know much about a science book.”)
Be True to Your SchoolBeach Boys (The Chemistry Team didn’t have lettered sweaters or team jackets. In fact, Shop Boy kept his participation a secret for years. Blame me?)
99 Red BalloonsNena (Go ahead, sing in German. We’re not listening to the words.)
Killer QueenQueen (“Let them eat cake, she says, just like Marie Antoinette.” Cue the guillotine.)
Grip Like a ViceThe Go! Team (Rah-rah-rah.)
Get It Together Beastie Boys (Got the ill communication.)
She Blinded Me With Science — Thomas Dolby (Good heavens, Miss Sakamoto.)
Beer RunGarth Brooks/George Jones (Mary hates, hates, hates this song.)
If I Only Had a BrainThe Scarecrow/Judy Garland (So, one more time … where do I cut first?)

The Pristine Chapel

January 31, 2008

This calls for a toast!

Baltimore, home of Typecast Press, tomorrow — Feb. 1, 2008 — becomes part of the latest ban on smoking in restaurants and bars, following other states and communities that soon after enacting the ban have realized the obvious: People like to drink. You have a bar. People are going to drink in your bar. Unless it’s really, really, really sketchy.

OK, maybe even then.

There’s a little bar around the corner from Mary and Shop Boy called the Mount Royal Tavern. A dive’s dive, with a bathroom’s bathroom. Its clientele runs from bikers to bums to Baltimore ladies and gentlemen. (The bar discriminates against only one group, as my buddy Dave Schmickel and I learned when we showed up in tennis whites one day. They were required, OK?) Many customers are students of the nearby Maryland Institute College of Art, where some are taking courses in letterpress and apparently all are learning how to smoke. The Mount Royal is their study hall.

Not anymore.

Gone soon — a few days, maybe a couple of weeks — will be the unholy cloud that greets a beer or gin worshiper at the door. And on that day, from the ceiling, a reproduction of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel masterwork (Rome? Whatever …), God will smile down, no longer taking his own name in vain for creating such a dumb species. (Really, you’ve got to see the ceiling.)

Now, don’t get us wrong. Mary and Shop Boy do not smoke. We also don’t think it’s very bright, given the cost of cigarettes and the proven health risks of inhaling. But we’re not here to judge. Shop Boy was a two-pack-a-day guy in his late teens. Still gets cravings once in a while. And Mary and Shop Boy came of age in newspapers — in newsrooms and composing rooms where it seemed everybody smoked. Heck, you know some of these old-timers can remember fellow printers who’d clean the press with a gasoline-soaked rag while a burning ember dangled at the end of their lips. Might have even been drinking at the time. Crazy, but kind of Humphrey Bogart crazy, no?

Once, Shop Boy was called on the carpet during his first few weeks at the Rocky Mountain News in Denver over a headline he’d written about a set of sleazy women-in-prison TV movies about to hit prime time. The headline: “T&A Behind Bars.” (We’d come from a New York tabloid, albeit the “tabloid in a tutu” as Newsday was once sneeringly dubbed by a competitor. Didn’t feel racy to me.)

Nancy Murray, my boss, was a potty-mouthed beauty, a 6-footer with big, blonde hair and a low, sexy voice. Smoking … literally. But she was also steaming mad. Her office seemed to get smaller and more oxygen-depleted as she ran down a list of my offenses, expelling smoke to emphasize each point.

“Do you know what ‘T&A’ stands for?” (I was silent, paralyzed. Nancy was offended?) “Tits (phoo!) … and (phoo!) … ass (phoo!),” she hissed. “It is no language for a family newspaper (phoo!) and it will not be accepted at this newspaper, mister. Now (phoo!) get back to work.”

We’d moved across the country for this? Truly, Shop Boy was shaken.

Later, when I’d won her over, Nancy would explain her earlier anger away, saying she was under way too much pressure and had been existing on coffee (phoo!), cigarettes (phoo!) and diet cola (phoo!).

Then there was Vida Roberts, fabled Baltimore Sun fashion editor. What style! Lord, but she was a tough old broad. Said so proudly. Vida could kill you with a quip. Or turn on the charm. Wow! Smoked like a chimney. And she held court many an afternoon at the Mount Royal.

So, Mary and Shop Boy have known some really cool smokers. Still do.

But we’re just bottom-line about some things. When you can make things better for everybody but the tobacco companies without really inconveniencing anybody, we think you ought to do it. And, doggone it, having to bury your clothes in the backyard after happy hour to quell the stench has gotten a bit old.

So, we’ll hold your place — and promise not to let the barkeep dump your drink — while you (phoo!) get a breath of (phoo!) fresh air (phoo!).

Thanks, Baltimore.


Oh, what the heck? Let’s do a Bonus Letterpress List. Not a full hour of music, but a good extended smoke break’s worth of songs that fit the moment. Most should be available in the usual places.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes — the Platters (Visine sales plummet.)
Tobacco Roadthe Animals (Blow it up, start all over again.)
Gettin’ Jiggy With ItWill Smith (“Just for the look … I don’t light it.” Shop Boy can’t help loving this stupid song.)
Ashtray Heart — Captain Beefheart (Heard this late one night long ago, and have never been the same.)
If You’re GoneMatchbox Twenty (Wimpy, but nice.)
Warm Beer and Cold WomenTom Waits (“The drinks are on me tonight.”)
Look SharpJoe Jackson (Go ahead. Bogart my cigarettes and beer, smart guy. I’ll help myself to your watch and wallet.)
Smoke Detector Rilo Kiley (In the, ahem, movie version of Shop Boy’s life, this will be playing in Nancy Murray’s office.)

Letterpress List No. 20: Mirror, Mirror …

January 28, 2008

OK, I can say it. Deep breath.

Shop Boy is …

he’s a …

a Sephora Beauty Insider.

I mean, not that kind of insider. Yes, I shop there, but only because Mary makes me a list, jams it in my shirt pocket, reminds me to use my little bonus card and expects to see the black-and-white bag in my soft-and-supple hands when I get home. Does that make me less of a dude? Or does the fact that right now I’m holding the little keychain tag that signifies my membership mean that I probably wasn’t much of a tough guy to begin with?

Wait a minute. What on earth does this have to do with letterpress printing?

Well, um, you know, you can’t have your face falling off in the printshop. Plays hell with the rollers. Am I right, fellas? (Work with me here, guys. Besides — my blog, my rules.)

Anyway, it all happened so fast.

There we were in Georgetown, checking out the area around U.S. News & World Report, where Shop Boy was about to begin moonlighting as a journalist type. Perfect location, on the block between the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal (there’s a canal boat and mules!) and the Potomac River. Oh, there’s other stuff, too. It’s on the main flight path to and from National Airport. Takeoffs and landings all day. And the president’s helicopter flies past a few times a week. You can see him in the window, the chopper’s so low. Sometimes I even wave. (Be quiet.) But mostly you’ll find Shop Boy staring at the water. Looking for fish, gazing at the boats, or just watching the water flow. It’s unbelievably fascinating. Shop Boy’s always been this way, as Mary will tell you.

True story: On a visit to the Virginia Aquarium a few years back, Mary and Shop Boy happened past an open tank that contained a couple of nurse sharks and a few harmless rays. The staff lady there said we could pet the animals. Well, sooner than you can say “splash,” Shop Boy was in up to his elbow, his full shirt sleeve soaked. Mary and the lady were laughing so hard I’m surprised they didn’t fall in. Hey, I get excited sometimes around water and aquatic animals.

Like when Mary and Shop Boy were visiting her old stomping grounds near San Francisco. We were picnicking at the beach — pretty sure it was Stinson — when, out of nowhere, a sea lion hopped onto a wave and surfed toward us. Jumping to his feet, Shop Boy sprinted toward the water’s edge, screaming to a woman walking along the shoreline: “Hey, lady! There’s a sea lion out there!”

She looked at me like, you poor, addled, little man, and answered, “Yes, we get a few of those around here.” She looked sympathetically toward Mary, who absolutely roared. It wasn’t until the next day, when we visited the wharf in San Francisco and got a whiff of what must have been 1,000 or so sunbathing sea lions — yikes! — that Shop Boy realized the full depth of his ridiculousness. The look on my face must have been priceless, because Mary was hysterical all over again.

Wait. Where was I? Water … water, oh right. Moisture. Washington, D.C.

Well, Mary doesn’t have much use for an old canal, some stinky mules or presidential flyovers. To her, Thomas Jefferson Street is the Yellow Brick Road (red brick, actually) that leads to Oz, otherwise known as M Street. Paper Source, ooh. Barney’s Co-Op, ahh. The Gap, whee. Sephora, ding-ding-ding. (Apparently we don’t get to the mall enough.)

She grabbed Shop Boy’s hand and skipped toward the crosswalk shouting, “C’mon! We’re going to Sephora!” And as soon as we got inside the store, she was gone, lost in a haze of perfume and powdered cosmetics, up to her elbows somewhere in creams, lipsticks and heaven knows what. (Hope she remembered to roll up her sleeves.) Shop Boy wished he could disappear, too, as the lab-coated — basic black, natch — headset-clad sales associates, all very well made up, descended. To the fifth one who approached, asking whether I needed some help today, I blurted out, “My wife’s in here somewhere. She made me come here. I’m not really a shopper. I mean, I’m a shopper but not that kind of shopper, you know? Not shopping for myself, OK? I’m just trying to find a place to hide. Am I in the way here? I’m a printer, fyi. Heh, heh. Yup, big machines. Not a job for cream puffs. You got a guy’s section or something? Look, I’m a dude. Yes, a Sephora Beauty Insider dude, but …”

She looked at me like, you poor, addled, little man, and whispered gently:

“Don’t worry. We get a few of those around here.”


Letterpress List No. 20

How about an hour of music to moisturize by? Look, it takes Shop Boy 57 minutes to psych himself up, all right? I got the, ahem, Murad Energizing Pomegranate Moisturizer SP 15 in my eyes the other day. You can bet they were moist after that. Mary had to flush them out. Geez. Yeah, this list is a day early (dentist appointment tomorrow — yay! — might leave Shop Boy a bit uninspired). Anyway, most of these songs should be available in the usual places. Random goofy or great video links are to YouTube.

Dude (Looks Like a Lady)Aerosmith (If he looked like this, we’d all bite.)
Somebody BeautifulGene Simmons (A man who knows his makeup.)
Lolathe Kinks (Girls will be boys and boys will be girls.)
FashionDavid Bowie (Beep-beep.)
The Beautiful PeopleMarilyn Manson (“Hey you, what do you see?”)
Liquored Up and Lacquered DownSouthern Culture on the Skids (Coulda been a beauty queen.)
Kiss From a RoseSeal (Ha! Just playing.)
Pretty in Pinkthe Psychedelic Furs (Wasn’t she?)
Gone Like the WaterFreedy Johnston (Goodbye, Mom and Dad. I, um, borrowed a few things.)
UnprettyTLC (So … not so.)
Beautiful Christina Aguilera (So.)
Barenaked Ladies (Spoofing consumerism.)
Celebrity SkinHole (Not selling cheap.)
SingaporeTom Waits (“Wipe him down with gasoline, till his arms are hard and mean.”)
Where the River FlowsCollective Soul (Is where you’ll find dogs like me, I guess.)
Proud MaryTina Turner (Um … wow.)
Splish SplashBobby Darin (Silly. You got a problem with that?)
Too Many Fish in the Seathe Marvelettes (A better one’s out there.)
Bring Me Some WaterMelissa Etheridge (This one singed her eyebrows. Better get the makeup.)

Flawed Gems

January 25, 2008

If our type could talk, it would probably sound something like this:

“Ouch! Easy on the impression there, Tarzan. Ever heard of a ‘kiss,’ kids?”

But even without the gift of speech — and attitude (you have to remember that this ancient stuff has hung around in some pretty rough places in its day) — old type tells its story loud and clear.

Lead F, 36-point Bodoni bold: “Remember the time when the kerning needed tightening and the brute used a file to shave away part of my, uh, lower half? Well, that ain’t gonna grow back, my friend.”

Wood G, 54-point Gothic: “Yeah, or the day that numbskull apprentice dropped the ink can. My scar still shows after all these years.”

Ah, what characters. You can call them damaged. At Typecast Press, we call them distinctive, one-of-a-kind. We encourage the flaws in the type — whether created by wear and tear, carelessness or necessity — to make their presence felt. Take the logo Mary did for Woodberry Kitchen that can now be seen on menus, business cards, in magazine ads and, ahem, on the signage made by immensely cool architectural designer and sculptor John Gutierrez.

Anyway, the way we physically created it is, Shop Boy thinks, about as cool as the logo itself. See, we used incredibly old technology, mixed in a little new tech and the big bang theory. (“Ouch! You animals!”) And it was a fun break from our ongoing pursuit of the “perfect” impression.

First, you take a set of wood type, say 48-point Whatsitsface. In a complete set you’ll probably have a few of each letter, more if they’re key characters like E, A or O. Arrange them on the bed of a Vandercook proof press; ours is a No. 3. Add the appropriate wooden spacers and furniture, then lock the whole form into place so it won’t shift during printing. Get your brayer (a roller with a handle) and begin spreading the ink across the glass plate to get it warmed up — today’s color is black and soy-based.

Next, brayer the ink evenly onto the letters. Already, you can see that the impression won’t be uniform. Some letters have blemishes, scrapes or other flaws. Excellent. So now Mary ups the ante, getting all Jackson Pollock with a bit of scrap paper, randomly chopping at and blotting the ink. Once another, thicker sheet (for a bigger “hit”) is locked into the guides, just crank away and presto: a happy accident. We generally do five or so this way, then pick the example with the best lived-in look and feel. Remember to check your spelling and punctuation, students.

Great. So you’ve got a sheet of paper with 48-point letters on it. Fit that on a business card.

OK, we will. After the ink dries a bit, we slide the chosen sheet onto the scanner, then import it into the computer as an image file that can be shrunken or enlarged at will. And here’s the neatest part: The flaws remain perfectly consistent at any size. One set of old wooden letters has become five or six.

Next, turn the logo, now a series of files sized for various uses, into polymer plates. Start printing.

I know. Those in the letterpress printing business at this point are thinking: “Duh. What am I even reading this for?” Our eureka moment was theirs so 10 years ago or whatever. That’s fine. Typecast Press didn’t invent this method, but maybe someone will stumble upon this blog who hadn’t thought of it. We sure hadn’t. We’re already thinking of other ways to mesh old and new that might not be unique to us either, so there. Besides, anything that keeps these old cases of type together and alive — word is that wood type is being bought up, jumbled together and poured willy-nilly into hollow glass forms to make decorative coffee tables, among other things — is positively revolutionary at this point.

If our letters could talk they’d probably say:


Letterpress List No. 19: Broad Strokes

January 22, 2008

They say certain colors can make a room’s occupants more serene (green) or alert and happy (yellow) or might — if not carefully balanced — really stir the blood (duh … red).

Well, Duke was provoked anyway.

He didn’t like the color. Nope. Uh-uh. No way. After eyeballing his handiwork, Duke Bozman, a local painter, just about begged Mary to let him fix it. He said — in a mesmerizing drawl that’s about equal parts Eastern Shore of Maryland, old Baltimore and Appalachia, making “Mary” sound like “Murrah” (all right, I’m told my people in Rhode Island have, ahem, accent issues as well) — that he’d paint over the awful mess for free. Mary calmly and happily declined. The paint maker calls it Beacon Hill Damask, a mix of green and yellow that Mary simply calls heaven.

“But Mary,” Duke pleaded again. Finally he shrugged, turned up Rush Limbaugh on his boom box, harrumphed and started on the trim. (White Dove, FYI.)

Now, Shop Boy knows the picture that’s probably forming in your head. It certainly was the picture that Mary got when she “met” Duke by telephone. He came very highly recommended. So, one day, expecting a gnarled, crotchety old dude in paint-splattered overalls carrying a spit cup, she opened the door to …

Mick Jagger.

Swear to god.

A Rolling Stone was here to paint Mary’s home office.


On second look, Duke’s more Ron Wood than Mick Jagger. Let’s paint the picture: Dark hair past his shoulders. Handsome, weathered face. Sweatshirt with the sleeves torn off and the front ripped nearly to the navel. (Over a T-shirt in the same condition. What are the odds?) Indian chief in full headdress tattooed on his perpetually bared upper arm. Washington Redskins cap. Backwards, natch. Tight, tight jeans. Mary was impressed, anyway. Except for that one day when he showed up in the work boots and Daisy Dukes and … OK, paintbrushes down. This is a family blog.

And Rush aside, Duke’s a right thoughtful guy. His discussion with Shop Boy one day about the media, once we got past our initial positions — “Why’re y’all so liberal?” vs. Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot — was a lesson in detente.

He’s even survived Mary’s, um, disappointment when she returned one day to find Duke removing primer — he’d accidentally applied the wrong type — with gasoline! The whole house could have blown up. That is so old school rock-and-roll.

In fact, by now, Duke’s painted half our home and half our printshop.

Still, it wasn’t a big surprise that we decided not to hire Duke for our latest paint job. Mary had chosen to revisit Beacon Hill Damask for the part of Typecast Press’ studio with the big presses. We’ll need a little calm attentiveness in a room full of these monsters and a hydraulic — gulp — guillotine paper cutter. Our new favorite Rolling Stone still wouldn’t like the color.

Not a lick.


Letterpress List No. 19

Has it been a week already? Shop Boy’s getting lazy. Let’s get this blog back on the road already. You know how it goes. Here’s about an hour’s worth of music to paint by. Sleeves optional, but turn off that Limbaugh! Most songs should be available in the usual places.

Mellow Yellow Donovan (Quite rightly.)
LimelightRush (It’s hard on a rock star.)
Every Picture Tells a Storythe Faces (Ron Wood’s former group. The lead singer would also become kinda famous.)
Paint It Blackthe Rolling Stones (She’s gone. Him, too.)
Sir DukeStevie Wonder (“A language we all understand.” With Japanese subtitles. And in karaoke!)
Red Red RedFiona Apple (“I don’t understand. I’ll never understand. But I’ll try to understand.” Fair’s fair.)
White RoomCream (Left at the station.)
Cult of PersonalityLiving Colour (“The smiling face on your TV.” Hmm.)
Mr. Blue SkyELO (Fluff. But Shop Boy’s always liked fluff.)
Purple HazeJimi Hendrix (Non-fluff, for real. A question, though. Was Jimi’s drummer old enough to take LSD? Shoulda checked his ID.)
Sister Golden HairAmerica (Thinking of you, even though I don’t call or write.)
She’s a Rainbowthe Rolling Stones (No lady fairer.)
Theme from The Dukes of HazzardWaylon Jennings (Lightning in a bottle and a pair of short-shorts.)
Bound and GaggedTed Nugent (Gunboat diplomacy.)
American IdiotGreen Day (Dissenting viewpoint.)
Indian ReservationPaul Revere and the Raiders (Just goofing on the tat and the hat, sorry.)

Letterpress List No. 18: Duty Bound

January 15, 2008

Whew! Dodged a bullet.

Or considering that it was an attempted first-degree murder case, Shop Boy should simply say that he fulfilled his jury duty to the City of Baltimore yesterday without having to actually sit in judgment. By three numbers. This is no small thing.

See, Shop Boy dreads this stuff. Not the public service. He pays his taxes, obeys the law and, Lord knows, serves on juries. (Between you and me, would you pick me to decide your fate? These legal types can’t get enough of Shop Boy.) But the service always comes at the worst possible time, doesn’t it?

Anyway, I’m still a little sore over one particular case a few years back in which a judge whose name ended in a vowel chose Shop Boy out of the crowd to be his jury foreman because of our shared cultural heritage. (They all have the names that match the juror numbers.) Yes, “Shop Boy” actually comes from the Italian phrase for “Pick Me.” It’s an Ellis Island translation. (Oh, wait a minute. My peoples didn’t exactly come through Ellis Island. Never mind.)

There I stood yesterday, Juror No. 672, as we were called one by one to stand before the court and be, uh, judged worthy or not of serving on this attempted murder case. There were about 60 of us in the mix, once all the folks who couldn’t possibly in any way, nope, no how serve today. People will say anything — public humiliation be darned — to squirrel out of their duty. Shop Boy won’t. So, as Juror No. 669 waited to learn her fate, il signore — Pick Me — was sweating. OK, bullets.

Well, standing and cheering is really bad form in such instances, so as she was chosen and we the unneeded and unworthy were led out while the jury was sworn in — and with the clock moving toward 4 p.m. — Shop Boy stayed with an internal end zone dance.

Case closed.

Until the next jury summons arrives, of course, at the worst possible time.


Letterpress List No. 18

This might have been called Music to Serve By, but you can’t listen to music in the jury waiting area of the courthouse. No cell phones either. It’s positively Neanderthal. (Or kinda like letterpress printing, I suppose.) So save these songs for those times when we are thankful not to be in the defendant’s chair staring at a bunch of folks who’d rather be anywhere else.

Like right now.

Most of these songs, about an hour’s worth, should be available in the usual places. Great or goofy video links are from YouTube.

Smooth CriminalMichael Jackson (Shop Boy prefers Alien Ant Farm’s cover — it’s faster and rougher — but Jackson was pretty amazing, lest we forget.)
Give the Kid a BreakAlice Cooper (Satan as judge, jury and executioner. Alice as ham.)
Take the Money and Runthe Eagles (And keep running.)
Chain GangSam Cooke (Hard time.)
I Fought the Law the Clash (Ditto.)
Tough LoveHamell on Trial (Somebody call the cops.)
Went Down SwingingTom Petty (Like Benny Goodman … or something.)
Murder Was the CaseSnoop Dogg (Going out like a thug. Sigh.)
Renegade Styx (The news is out.)
Missed Me
Dresden Dolls (“Serves you right for kissing little girls.”)
JailbaitTed Nugent (Ditto.)
My Wife Thinks You’re Dead Junior Brown (Um, great to see you, honey. Been too long. Now beat it.)
Another Body DropsCypress Hill (Killing to a heart-stopping beat.)
Bohemian RhapsodyQueen (Threw it all away.)
18 and LifeSkid Row (Ditto.)
Prison SongSystem of a Down (Grim statistics. Mary wishes Shop Boy had never heard this one, by one of her least favorite bands. I was smitten.)
Captive HonourMegadeth (“Where evil lives and evil rules.” Again, let’s be grateful for a moment.)
Folsom Prison BluesJohnny Cash (Justice served.)


January 11, 2008

There was a time when Shop Boy didn’t hesitate to drive home to Rhode Island from New Jersey for dinner on a whim, or two hours to meet Mary for morning coffee and a bagel in NYC. There was the circumnavigation of Colorado — and that is one big square — taking Mary to various conferences. Shop Boy once drove across the country for about 14 hours a day to stay ahead of a giant snowstorm and even commuted for a couple of years to the middle of Long Island from Brooklyn.

So what’s up with this?

Mary says we’re driving to Philadelphia to pick up a tray case and a 3-foot-tall, foot-pedal-powered, cast-iron stapler (if you know Shop Boy, you know you’ll be hearing more about that baby) and Shop Boy goes all Eeyore. It’s a long way. It’s sure to snow. The machines will be shaken to bits by the crappy highways. People are crazy out there. And, of course, there’s no room for more stuff in the shop.

Then there’s Shop Boy’s admittedly ignorant view of the Keystone State:

You’ve got a friend in Pennsylvania … and you’d better find him quick.

True story: On one trip through western Pennsylvania, Mary and Shop Boy happened to stop in this quaint little town … oh, let’s call it Murderville. Charming on the outside. But where were the people? It literally was like the horror movies where the houses’ closed curtains move just a little bit as you pass. Like someone is watching you. We stopped at a diner for coffee, all the heads turned … and Shop Boy immediately went to the men’s room to take his earring out (FYI: he no longer wears one). Let’s just say the curtains were moving again as we beat a hasty retreat — from the wind we created as we broke the sound barrier.

Pure dread.

Kind of like the feeling Mary gets when she’s about to walk into a Kinko’s. You’ve been there, right? All the heads in the place turn — in the other direction — when you walk in. Nobody knows how to work the machines or how to find someone who does. Too many times I’ve had to drag Mary out of there for the safety of the “help.”

She’s determined never to need Kinko’s again.

Shop Boy’s determined to keep her out of the slammer on an assault-and-battery rap, so … an industrial stapler’s price tag seems a small one to pay.

Anyway, there we were in my little pickup tooling up I-95 on a sunny Saturday morning, headed for Swarthmore, just outside of Philly. College town. A dry college town. Mercy, what a dude could probably get for a six-pack … but we won’t go there.

We were meeting the seller, Tricia Treacy, a fellow letterpress printer and teacher at the University of Delaware. Fashionably late, we still got a tour of the studio Tricia’s fixing up in her garage. I could hear Mary’s heart start pounding and hear her mind spinning when she saw the Vandercook Universal 1, the Holy Grail. Or maybe it was the cat named Miehle (just kidding … the purring was deafening). Tricia’s also got a C&P clamshell press in the corner that’s, uh, gonna take a little work. (What’s with these people?)

We chatted with Tricia as her husband and little boy played in the leaves of the front yard. Neighbors stopped by to chat. There was a yard sale going on across the street. (No, Mary, no.) Not a single closed curtain or turned head. Just a beautiful old neighborhood of stone houses with a cute as heck downtown and a totally cool train station. We were about ready to buy a house there.

As off we drove off, Shop Boy was thinking that maybe he ought to change his perception of Pennsylvania. And that maybe we did have room for this stuff after all.

And that maybe Mary shouldn’t be so negative about these road trips.


Letterpress List No. 17: Cargo Loading

January 8, 2008

About two weeks before summer vacation, the graph paper, the pencil and the ruler would appear on the kitchen table. An odd collection of boxes and suitcases would pile up next. Soon would come the familiar clatter of the old metal roof rack being, uh, coaxed from behind all the bicycles, sporting goods and who knows what that the seven kids had piled into the shed in the past 12 months. (“Brats!” Shop Boy’s dad used to hiss that whenever we’d gotten under his skin.)

We were going to New Hampshire for a week or two, which meant piling the kids into a big red station wagon for the three-hour drive from Cranston, R.I. The only real place to fit the clothes and supplies was the roof rack.

“And this time it’s going to fit, dammit.”

Wallace St. Angelo said that every summer. He’d measure and remeasure the roof rack, carefully size up suitcases and boxes, do the math, plot it out on the graph paper, explain to my mom exactly how much would fit … then on departure day stew and swear as he packed the car and the cargo didn’t come close to matching his painstakingly formulated chart.

“Oh, Wally,” my mom, Jane, would say blithely. “I only added one little thing.”

Shop Boy was feeling his pain this weekend as he stood in the freshly painted Typecast Press studio whose dimensions he’d so carefully studied, measured and remeasured and mapped on graph paper each time Mary acquired this or that machine. (As my mom used to say, the apple didn’t fall very far from the tree. Dad also used to write these goofy little stories to make his wife laugh. Hmm.) Anyway, Shop Boy’s focus is on giving Mary as cool and pretty a studio as possible while giving us enough clearance that we’re not constantly walking into the machinery. Funky but functional.

Well, this roof rack won’t hold anything else.

So how in the world are we going to “blend in” a Heidelberg Windmill with a ton-plus, 25-square-foot-plus “presence”?

“Why don’t we just tear down the closet?” Mary asked. “That’ll make it fit.”

Because Shop Boy doesn’t want to. It’s a great place to store clean paper as well as stuff we need but don’t want to see all the time. It’s got old wires in it, so we’ll need to hire an electrician. Besides, the demolition will make a mess, and we just painted it. I’ve barely finished whining over that deal.

Mary (blithely): “Oh, Shop Boy … it’s only one more press, and it’s the last one we’ll ever need. And we can build shelves to replace the storage space we lose. You’ll love it.”


Letterpress List No. 17

True story: My mom always wanted me to write a book. Any book. Something to prove my worth. As editor, I didn’t even get my name in the paper. So one time, Shop Boy — she called me Steven — decided on a whim to write two full chapters of a novel for a writer’s conference. Got mostly nice feedback and decided to show it to my mom. “Where’s the rest of it, Steven?” she demanded. Period.

I shiver to think what she’d have thought of this goofy blog.

Anyway, Shop Boy’s dad probably won’t be reading this, either, so we can say anything we want about the guy, right? Nah, he’s been a great father. Besides, what’s not to love about an old, straight, white dude who’s just this side of a Donna Summer groupie?

With him in mind, here’s about an hour’s worth of music to rearrange the furniture by. Most songs should be available at the usual places. Disco ball optional. (Wally’s going for it.)

Hot StuffDonna Summer (Everybody sing along.)
Pretty Fly for a White Guy
the Offspring (‘Nuff said.)
GloriaLaura Brannigan (Another of Wally’s crushes. Yours, too, if you’re a guy 40 or older. Besides, it’s a great song. And yes, Mary will make fun of Shop Boy for saying so.)
A Touch Too MuchAC/DC (Always.)
FunkdafiedDa Brat (The funk, the whole funk and nothing but the funk.)
TemptedSqueeze (When it comes to crazy old machinery, Mary’s got a wandering eye.)
Funky But ChicNew York Dolls (No buts about it.)
Another Brick in the WallPink Floyd (Mary just switched the station.)
Demolition ManGrace Jones (My prediction: Closet 1, Shop Boy 0.)
Closet Chronicles Kansas (Just for the title. But this band doesn’t get enough credit.)
It’s Coming DownCake (Ditto.)
Sweating BulletsMegadeth (The walls are closing in.)
Seek and DestroyMetallica (Air guitars locked and loaded …)
The Walls Came Down —
The Call (They’d all been warned.)
You May Be Right —
Billy Joel (She usually is.)
The Logical Song
Supertramp (One, two, three, five.)
The Ruler’s Back Jay-Z (Maybe he’s got the blueprint.)

In Over His Head

January 3, 2008

The big guy cleans the fish.

That’s Wayne Mashburn, Mary’s dad. Oh, he’s shown Shop Boy a million times how to do it. He even gave me a really cool knife, one of those military issue, G.I. Joe deals with the ridge in there so you can hold it in your teeth while crossing a swollen, snake-infested river to neutralize a drug lord’s lookout or field dress a wild boar that made the bad decision to attack. At least that’s what it could do if it ever left the leather holster.

Shop Boy’s just not feeling it.

Instead, each time we catch fish — trout, usually, at North Catamount Reservoir near the top of Pikes Peak in Colorado (real pretty place) — Shop Boy requests one final demonstration. It’s become a joke: I catch all the fish, he cleans them.

OK, or he catches all the fish, he cleans them. Seems fair, right?

Wayne doesn’t mind. He’s a great cook and probably figures Shop Boy’d just mess up his fillets. And besides, he knows payback is coming. See, he and I have done a bunch of household remodeling projects together through the years. He’s another real good guy to have around. (Typecast Press is collecting them — if you’re handy, you might want to steer real clear of us.) Wayne doesn’t talk much, but he’s smart, creative and experienced at building stuff and very, very tall. He painted the ceilings of the Denver house Mary and Shop Boy bought some years back … and didn’t need a ladder. One problem: He doesn’t do low anymore.

So, whenever a project involves getting up close and personal with the floor, he asks for a demonstration of how a less-vertically-enhanced dude — say, Shop Boy — would contort himself to handle the task. Even though he’s seen it, like, a million times. Geez.

There we were just after Christmas, in fact, going over who would handle which part of getting the new wing of the Typecast Press studio painted. Negotiations went something like this: He takes the high stuff; Shop Boy kisses the tile.

Man, Shop Boy had no idea how much wood trim it took to finish out this place, which we lucked into when a local illustrator, Andy Snair, decided to be brilliant elsewhere. Shop Boy also had no idea how many sharp metal shavings or how much dust and oil — from moving in the presses and other stuff — had accumulated along the baseboard down there.

By the time we were through, my hands were filthy and sliced up, my shoulders, hips and knees ached, my hair was a dust mop.

But the sucker was painted.

Wayne didn’t dare suggest a second coat on the baseboard trim. Shop Boy would probably have bitten him on the ankle. Again, smart guy.

Still, Wayne did make one big mistake on this trip to Baltimore: letting Shop Boy pick the pool hall, one with several tables almost as short as the skirts of its waitresses. See, I have almost no shot on a long table, but shrink the field of play and … well, let’s just say Shop Boy left the joint feeling about 10 feet tall.

As with the home/shop jobs, though, these things have a way of evening themselves out. Mary’s folks are taking the long way home to Colorado as we speak, which means that Wayne’s about a week from beginning his next “project”: finding the longest stinking pool table in Colorado Springs … and the bait that’ll get Shop Boy there.

Letterpress List No. 16: La-La-La Land

December 31, 2007

On our mornings in Paris (sigh), Mary and Shop Boy were awakened by many things other than the alarm clock and cellphone we broke: screaming schoolkids on the nearby playground, the symphony of church bells that chime in unison across the city on Sundays, performers on the cobblestone street, the hunger for more cheese …

Perhaps even more memorable, though, was this guy on a little motorbike who, after having a few too many cocktails with his buds, “parked” in the courtyard, wiping out into a collection of trash cans.

Bummer, right?

He pulled himself out of the pile and sang out: La-La-La!

It’s become the unofficial motto of Typecast Press, the French take on “Stuff Happens.”

Anyway, as Shop Boy was thinking about what kind of New Year’s greeting to offer here, the merry Parisian dude came to mind. So …

Welcome to 2008! Some good stuff’s gonna happen; some bad stuff, too. And at year’s end, we’ll just stand up, brush off the mess and, ahem, press on.


***Letterpress List No. 16

Here’s about an hour of music to celebrate the senses of wonder, possibility, doubt and loss that seem to wash over us at the turn of the year. Were we good enough last year? Will this be the year we become what we know we can and should be? Will there be a 2009? And perhaps more importantly, if there is a 2009, will there be a Letterpress List No. 68?


Most of these tunes should be available in the usual places.

Happy New Year!

The Dock of the Bay — Otis Redding (Best song ever?)
Time in a Bottle — Jim Croce (If not, this is. Shop Boy cries every single time.)
MultiplyJamie Lidell (Channeling the funk. One of Mary’s discoveries.)
Bring Me to LifeEvanescence (Get off the ledge.)
Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)Green Day (Lessons learned.)
Get Ur Freak OnMissy Elliott (Hate the spelling, not the speller.)
It’s All Been DoneBarenaked Ladies (“Alone and bored on a 30th-century night. Will I see you on The Price Is Right?” LOL.)
You Better You Bet Roger Daltry (“I don’t really mind how much you love me. A little is all right.”)
Let My Love Open the DoorPete Townshend (Equal time in Who-ville. Shop Boy’d never noticed how similar the lead-in is to Daltry’s. Funny.)
No More DramaMary J. Blige (Just an idea.)
The WreckoningBoomkat (She’s sooo tough.)
Feel Good Inc.Gorillaz (Maybe the coolest band side project ever. OK, that Shop Boy knows about, anyway.)
You Know I’m No GoodAmy Winehouse (Hang on, hon.)
Story of My LifeSocial Distortion (Rock-and-roll weekends, alas, get old.)
Wouldn’t It Be Nicethe Beach Boys (Yes, it would.)
Wash Us AwayIan Hunter (“For all the wrong reasons we rescued each other.”)
Steady As She Goesthe Raconteurs (Acoustic version’s even better.)
ElectedAlice Cooper (Speechless. Us, not Alice.)
The Way It Really IsLisa Loeb (Everything is fine … right?)
Where’s Your Head AtBasement Jaxx (Monkeys rock!)
Breathe (2 AM)Anna Nalick (Friends in need.)
Friend of a FriendFoo Fighters (Friends no longer there.)
I Can See Clearly NowJohnny Nash (Ahhh …)

We Are Not Alone

December 27, 2007

Bring Your Child to Work Day has always seemed to me a really bad idea. Gather up the impressionable young ones and let them observe Mom or Dad getting yelled at for screwing up in the workplace. Watch as the folks then squirm and make excuses, pass the blame as they botch more assignments, surf the Internet, chat on the phone about how busy they are and finally weave, bob, speed, honk and holler through the rush-hour traffic toward home.

(Shop Boy wants to create this bumper sticker: “My Child Is an Honor Student … But I’m Teaching Him to Drive Like a Moron.” Look for it on your car.)

Anyway, what are the kiddies to take away from Bring Your Child to Work Day? Pretty much this:

“Man, working stinks.” Or, worse, “Dad’s a loser.”

Why bring this up? Well, Typecast Press has entered unfamiliar territory. It’s always been just Mary and Shop Boy … and, from time to time, however many dudes it took to move heavy equipment. If one of us did something really dumb, we looked at each other, we laughed at ourselves and we moved on. No young minds were harmed in the printing of our materials and all that.

Now, all of a sudden, we’ve got interns — college kids — hanging around the shop. And it’s a bit unsettling.

The interns sought us out, seeing the Typecast Press website and deciding that, ahem, Mary has a pretty cool thing going here. And we really can use the help right about now. (Free help that comes to you. What a concept.) But interns — even, and sometimes especially, the good ones — are hard work. Mary tends to worry that they’ll get underfoot and feels they must earn our trust and their keep. Shop Boy worries that they’ll be bored or, ouch, unimpressed when they see us “live.”

So when Mary and Ned, a truly gifted print maker and graphic designer from Savannah College of Art and Design, both started shrieking “No!” as Shop Boy was printing the right information on the wrong holiday coaster … well, let’s just say it wasn’t a good sign, to my way of thinking. I wrecked only a few of the things — OK, 35 — but was so embarrassed to have messed up something so simple in front of Ned that I had to leave the building for a moment.

Playing dumb can be fun. Being dumb … not quite so much.

Still, Ned got a very valuable lesson in checking once, checking twice, checking three times and then turning on the press.

And we had a big laugh about it later. I guess young people can do a lot worse than to learn that trick.

Pull the Lever Already

December 20, 2007

Think Santa’s elves are busy? Bah. Shop Boy’s gotta really start cranking.

Got to get the materials ready for Iowa and New Hampshire.

See, as Mary’s surprise Christmas gift, I got her on the ballot for president of these United States of America. It wasn’t easy. All these rules and stuff, going door to door for signatures, the paperwork, and all the secrecy. We need to keep this out of the media as long as possible to keep Clinton, Obama, Romney and Giuliani from digging up dirt. (Watching you too, Huckabee.)

Mary and Shop Boy are going to spring a January surprise. Mark my words.

“Wait,” you ask, “what business does Mary Mashburn have being president of the U.S.A.?” Shop Boy asks back, “Who else is there?”

The Clintons burned us once. We’ve stopped thinking about tomorrow. (Yesterday’s still too fresh.) Giuliani’s too pugnacious and mean to have control of the nukes. The 9/11 thing looks good, but here’s what our foreign policy would sound like: “You talkin’ to me?” Obama’s got the Oprah albatross. Just … enough, you know, O? Romney’s going to be needed in China to fix those Olympics, too. Huckabee? No offense, but wouldn’t we giggle every time he was introduced? Edwards? Should have gotten his wife on the ballot. Fred Thompson? What’d Bush say about bad actors?

As for the elephant — or should we say donkey — in the living room, Al Gore is doing such a good job of not being president, you’d hate to see him mess that up.

So that leaves Mary.

Her platform? Since this is a surprise gift, let’s just say it’s evolving. And Shop Boy’s putting words in Mary’s mouth, but …

Iraq: Like it or not, we need to muck out George Bush’s stall. Shouldn’t be there, but can’t leave until we clean up our mess.

Economy: You want to be an American? Pay your taxes. That goes for the tycoons and rich churches, too. The rich will remain rich, the poor might eat tonight. I think Bill Maher said it pretty well: “If America’s richest one percent are now so rich that even a five-star hotel isn’t good enough, it’s time to bring back the guillotine.” Typecast Press’ guillotine is available. Won’t cut straight, but that’s not the point here.

Energy: Ethanol is stupid. It just puts off finding better alternatives by pumping cash into ridiculously wealthy farm/oil monopolies. It doesn’t force auto makers to improve cars. And it takes corn out of needy mouths. Ban SUVs and fix Amtrak instead.

Now, if you’ve been following along in this space, you know that Mary will keep the nation up way too late at night. (Shop Boy has “energy issues” all the time.) This will just give her more incentive to address the nation’s oil addiction.

Non-Iraq foreign policy: Don’t start none, there won’t be none.

We’ll save further specifics for the campaign trail. I mean, once I tell Mary she’s running and all. (Shhhh! Don’t spoil the surprise, OK?)

Oh, sure, we’ve got an uphill battle in “Cow Hampshire” and “the Snickers Salad State,” as Mary refers to our first two stops. And we’ve got to come up with a better slogan than “Mashburn 2008: She Rules!” Got a couple of days to work on it, though.

So, Shop Boy as first guy, huh? Don’t worry. Mary will keep me too busy in the printshop to get into any trouble. Of course we’re keeping Typecast Press going. It’s cool. It’s creative. It’s fun.

And Mary’s going to need a job when she’s through fixing America.

Besides, imagine how much an ex-president could charge to print your business cards.


Hey, by the way, check the “Ten Commandments of Holiday Entertaining” from Baltimore’s own Kitchen Goddess. Carve them in stone, people.

There’s a spot in Mary’s cabinet for her.

Letterpress List No. 15: Enter Sandman

December 17, 2007

Mary calls herself a Ford and Shop Boy a Maserati.

Now, before you start thinking that she’s giving me the ultimate compliment here, let’s run through her reasoning: First, she’s talking about when a Ford was a Ford. Simple, dependable and … uh … well put together. Turn the key, press the gas pedal, go.

The Maserati? Sports car of sports cars. What a machine! Turn the key, touch the gas pedal and it just might fly, so finely tuned that it flits, gazelle-like, in whichever direction you point it, its sleek suspension and steering systems making a mockery of the sharpest turn.

Or it might choke, rattle and stall, one of its fancy systems shot, meaning another expensive trip to the repair shop.

The reason I bring it up is that we’ve been putting in some late hours at the studio, the product of a glut of work — yay! — and the fact that Shop Boy’s other life makes him unavailable most weekdays. Once he steps off that train from Washington, though, it’s all about Typecast Press. No matter what the hour. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind doing it for Mary. And it can be fun. But, dude … every night? One of the reasons my last Tuesday post was a day early, in fact, was because Shop Boy thought he should file it before he died.

See, Shop Boy’s not the type to pull an all-nighter, and by that I mean go too long without sleep. (Please, folks.) Run too hard or for too many hours, Shop Boy begins to break down. Just like a horse that’s been “rode hard and put up wet” in cowboy terminology. Eventually, I’m as handy as your average houseplant. That ain’t the motor whining, it’s Shop Boy. Pffft! Call the tow truck.

Mary? Unbelievable. Unsinkable. Unstoppable. Pedal to the metal. You’d think as she got a little, um, more mileage on the odometer that she would pay, pay, pay for her blithe disregard for human limits on consciousness. Nope. Thus, her Ford-Maserati theory. And Mary’s sticking to it. Sigh.

The other night, Mary bought Shop Boy a cot for the printshop. So, we can all see where this road is heading, eh?


Letterpress List No. 15:

Cue the music. Here’s about an hour of music to rev up your engines for a last push at work or, for you lucky ones, a little, ahem, parking. Most songs should be available at the usual places.

Driver 8R.E.M. (We’ve been on this shift too long.)
Iron ManBlack Sabbath (Cal, schmal. See: Mashburn, Mary.)
Midnight ManiacKrokus (Lock your door. She knows where you are. And she’s got a little project for you.)
Fly Me Courageous
Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ (A time machine, no?)
Devil NightsElectric Six (These guys kill me. Shop Boy and his childhood pal Kenny wanted to be them when we grew up. Of course, they probably hadn’t been born yet.)
Push ItSalt-N-Pepa (Ooh baby, baby, b-b-b-baby. Real good.)
Stop!Jane’s Addiction (Don’t ask Shop Boy what it’s about. He just likes the noise.)
Hip Hop Is Dead Nas (Iron Butterfly rolls over in its grave. Love this.)
Sleep ForeverBree Sharp (Just an idea …)
Jeepster — T. Rex (“If I may be so bold,” this dude Marc Bolan launched a million bands. Odd duck, though.)
Too Old to Rock and Roll Jethro Tull (Speaking of weirdos … a Shop Boy favorite anyway.)
Thunder RoadBruce Springsteen (“Don’t run back inside, darlin’, you know just what I’m here for.” Shop Boy hands Mary the bill.)
MissundaztoodPink (Shop Boy couldn’t make it any clearer.)
Got the Time Joe Jackson (“No such thing as tomorrow, only one-two-three, go!”)
Mr. Baylis
Kasey Chambers (Keep driving. Something better’s up the road.)
Enter Sandman Metallica (The point of no return for Metallica. Great song, but commercial success has a price. Typecast Press hopes to find out what it is.)
Let’s Go to Bedthe Cure (Amen.)

Letterpress List No. 14: Mechanical Bull

December 10, 2007

“Don’t send your readers to the dictionary. It’s much more fascinating and better written. They’ll never come back.”

This is advice that Shop Boy, in his other life as an editor, has half-jokingly offered writers inclined to use big words or foreign phrases simply because they think it makes them sound smarter. You know: deus ex machina or bildungsroman. It’s no shock, really, to find that in Webster’s New World College Dictionary, “bildungsroman” — Shop Boy’s, ahem, personal bete noire — is followed by the word “bile.” You can look it up. No, wait … don’t go!

Oh, and be concise. “Unlike me, your readers aren’t getting paid to slog through this.” Mr. Old School has committed that sin himself a few times in this space, I know.

Now, I also know that this is just a silly blog. But if you’re going to write something — even for fun — you might as well make it understandable.

So before we get any farther along here, let’s begin to assemble a glossary of cool and goofy terms that stray readers and those who — gulp! — actually visit this space on purpose are likely to bump into. Believe me, Shop Boy was unaware of 90 percent of these words and concepts about two years ago. Mary, of course, has long been fluent, having stalked a few of the letterpress experts into the Witness Protection Program and having scoured books and the Web. (She also uses too many big words, so nyah, smartypants.)

Just a few to get us going …

Imposing Stone: This is the aptly named station where the Old Masters of composition, the final step before putting ink to paper, did their thing. First off, it is imposing. It took six movers just to lift the top of ours. Its steel surface is buffed to a perfect flatness, kind of like a riverbed pebble smoothed by the current. This is so type — and thus the impression it makes — remains perfectly level. The base is a wooden cabinet with drawers, trays and slots for thousands of bits of wood furniture. I know, because I cleaned each wooden bit by hand. The guys who worked on it were Stone Men. (Wow. Shop Boy is hoping his apprenticeship can lead to a title like that some day.)

Chase: The metal frame that holds in place whatever form you’ll be printing on the press. The bigger the press, the heavier the chase. Then you add the lead. The Shop Boy Workout Video is available for $19.99.

Hernia: See above.

Furniture: The wood or metal pieces — like honking Legos or Lincoln Logs — that surround and support your form in the chase.

Quoins: Metal locks that expand to tighten everything up, keeping the form and the furniture from falling out of the chase as you carry it toward the press.

Pied type: What you get if you don’t correctly lock the form into the chase. Also known as “$#@%&*!” — not just because of the jumble of metal type characters that results but also because it probably all just fell on your foot.

“$#@%&*!”: Also your supervisor’s response to delays caused by pied type.

Loupe: A sort of magnifying glass used by Mary, once the form is reassembled and the first proofs are made, to find and obsess over ink coverage issues.

Creature: Cool speaker setup from JBL that turns your iPod … OK, or other MP3 players (heathen!) into a full stereo.


Wait, did somebody mention music? Oh, it was me again. How about a few ditties with a Southern twang? What … Shop Boy can’t like any country music now? Please, hater. Besides, you have no choice in the matter. Here’s about an hour of music, country and crossover, most available in the usual places. Video links have been added if Shop Boy’s found great or goofy examples. Yes, it’s a day early, but it’d been too long between posts.

Letterpress List No. 14: Mechanical Bull

La GrangeZZ Top (“Uh, you know what I’m talkin’ about.” Not really, but you rock! And a-how-how-how.)
Go Walking Down ThereChris Isaak (Yeah, he’s soooo lonely.)
Let ‘Er Ripthe Dixie Chicks (Don’t let the door hit you in the butt.)
Blame the VainDwight Yoakam (Finger-pointing at the mirror.)
Wichita LinemanGlen Campbell/Freedy Johnston/Dwight Yoakam/REM, etc. Shop Boy had no idea the effect this song had on women, or he’d have embraced it much earlier.)
Pony Kasey Chambers (Just because. By the way, don’t let this song fool you. Mary and Shop Boy have seen Kasey in concert a few times. That voice is a WMD.)
Liquored Up, Lacquered DownSouthern Culture on the Skids (A new role model for Mary.)
Four Kicks Kings of Leon (These Southern boys been pumpin’ too much AC/DC. Cool song, though.)
Beer RunGarth Brooks/George Jones (Can’t stop thinkin’ what the hell they were drinkin’ when they made this county dry …”)
Crawling From the WreckageDave Edmunds (Too fast, too drunk, too habitually. OK, I know he’s British, but rockabilly’s close enough.)
Gimme Three StepsLynyrd Skynyrd (Man, all them gee-tars! Found this snippet on brainy Brian May of Queen and his awesome harmonic guitar tricks. Skynyrd didn’t need ’em.)
CowboyKid Rock (Not your Roy Rogers type.)
I’m No Angel
Gregg Allman (Honesty’s a nice place to start.)
Bleeding Fingers — Lucinda Williams (Shattered nerves, itchy skin, dirty words and heroin never sounded so … sexy.)
No Stranger to Shame
Uncle Kracker (Trading a trailer and TV dinners for a crib and a chauffeur.)
Born on the BayouCreedence Clearwater Revival (John Fogerty sounds kinda Southern, anyway.)
My Wife Thinks You’re Dead Junior Brown (The man’s flat cool.)