Posts Tagged ‘YouTube’

Letterpress List No. 83: Still on the Line

August 2, 2017

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

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

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

Oh, like you’ve never been there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This kind of makes me nuts too:

That’s Matt on the right. Dammit.

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

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

Fight over. A big moment right there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Self-Esteem” (The Offspring)—Ditto.

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

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

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

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

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

“I” (Kiss)—Affirmative.

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


Letterpress List No. 49: Bats in the Belfry

August 25, 2008

Our roommate walked in and screamed.

Not to worry. He does this whenever we accidentally leave the overhead fluorescent lights on in the part of the studio space that we share and which serves as the Typecast Press/Chris Hartlove Lounge. The screaming’s partly in fun, partly to send an unsubtle reminder that he’d prefer the room a bit dimmer. He’s a photographer with eyes that are keenly sensitive to light. But we need to work in that space — maybe just to get a better look at a color match — sometimes, too.

“OK, we get it. Sorry,” Mary will say, hitting the light switch, and Chris will say his hellos and retire to his darkroom turned office, which, naturally, features low lighting.

Mary loves her spaces bright. She’s a lamp nut. Our main studio has lights that hang from the ceiling, two small table lamps, “light box art” (an architectural photo printed on acetate and mounted on a long, vertically hung, fluorescent light fixture), a bank of spotlights above the C&P 8×12 and plans for more, more, more.

Shop Boy, like Chris, can see in the dark. Mary? She sees freaks.

“Bats! I’m surrounded by bats!”

True story: Mary and Shop Boy were enjoying the end of a sunset in our Denver back yard when we heard an odd sound. We looked along the roofline of our cute little bungalow for the source, agreeing that it seemed to be coming from the chimney. Before Shop Boy could even shift into denial mode — weird sounds mean home repairs … not my, um, thing — a little black object flew past our heads.

“Bird,” Shop Boy said.

“You sure?” Mary asked.

“Sure,” Shop Boy lied, as another bat took to the skies. “OK, maybe not.”

Within minutes, it was fairly obvious that we did not merely have bats in the chimney. We had ourselves a rookery. We ducked inside, away from the swarm, and immediately began debating a course of action.

Smoke ’em out? Nope, we were told: “They’ll come right through the wall, into the house.”

Poison? Forget it. Think of the stink of a chimney full of little corpses! Plus, bats are good to have around, eating their weight in mosquitoes and the like. You just don’t want them inside your cave, you know?

Mary went on the hunt for a humane exterminator, finding, as luck would have it, a young gentleman so handsome that his girlfriend followed him from job to job to dissuade his sharing of more than a gander at that buff body with his customers. The girlfriend didn’t know from bats, but she knew from human nature.

Hercules’ plan? Get most of the bats out — by hand! — then build a cage around the chimney that would let any stragglers out that night but wouldn’t let them back in. And up the ladder he went. In his bare hand would go, out a sleepy bat would come. Tossed one by one into the air, they flew desperately for cover from the midday sun. (Shop Boy wore wraparound sunglasses pretty much full time in Denver. Yeow.) One bat was so disoriented at suddenly being airborne that it flew sideways … right at the girlfriend, who squealed and tumbled heels over head with a loud crash into the thin metal doors of our little storage shed.

And when the eviction papers had been fully served, the exterminator dude placed the cage on the chimney — and another over a spot at the roofline that looked suspiciously like a place where homeless bats could roost. And that was that.


Mary (later that night): “Do you hear something?”

Shop Boy: “Nope. Probably just the wind.”

Mary (the next morning): “What are all these little holes in the screens?”

Shop Boy: “Them? Uh, those have been there a while.”

I’d pay for my denial.

One day, Mary was chatting with a visitor who’d also dealt with a bat infestation. “Oh, it was horrible,” the friend said. “For several nights, we’d hear them tearing at the screens, trying to get in every window.”

And a little light went on.

Had to run and get my shades to protect me from Mary’s glare.


Letterpress List No. 49

Hey, how about an hour’s worth of music to pick live bats from a chimney by or simply to dull the pain of that light-induced migraine? Most of these tunes should be available in the usual places. Goofy and great video links are to YouTube.

Bats in the BelfrySmokescreen (“I think they’re coming from the neighbor’s chimney.”)
When You Wish Upon a StarGene Simmons (This is known as denial.)
Seen the LightSupergrass (Not that Shop Boy or Chris needed it.)
CreepTLC (Dude’s chances of catting around? Exterminated.)
Bright Light FrightAerosmith (Denver’s 5,280 feet closer to the sun. Feels it.)
Bat Out of HellMeat Loaf (A rude awakening.)
Falling or FlyingGrace Potter & the Nocturnals (Falling … for Grace.)
Learn to FlyFoo Fighters (Up and away.)
Limelight Rush (Mary hates this band … maybe more than flying rodents.)
Coming HomeScorpions (Sorry, not tonight, my little friends.)
Over the MountainOzzy Osbourne (Dude’s batty.)
Fell on Black DaysSoundgarden (Again, not in Colorado.)
Mosquito SongQueens of the Stone Age (Go get ’em.)
The Midnight Special Creedence Clearwater Revival (Shine an ever-lovin’ light on me.)
Who Can It Be Now?Men at Work (Just the wind.)
You Want In, I Want OutJoan Jett (Black-hearted little monsters.)
Screaming for VengeanceJudas Priest (They wanted in.)
Boom Boom (Out Go the Lights)Pat Travers Band (Just love the song.)
Overture to Die Fledermaus Johann Strauss II (“The Bat” … get it? Shop Boy is sooooo cultured.)

Letterpress List No. 48: Death or Taxes

August 18, 2008

“Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

That’s the Incredible Hulk, who turns from mild-mannered geek to gargantuan green ball of vengeance if you happen to step on his shoes in the subway or something. Later, he can’t imagine what he’s done.

Or it could be Mary speaking.

She does the bulk of the prep on our taxes each year, including some pretty tricky deals involving sales tax and the like. Her accountant — who shall remain nameless — handles the forms and makes it all legit. This year, Mary asked her to file an extension, which she promptly did.

Then the accountant disappeared. Like Bermuda Triangle type stuff, you know? Unreachable by phone, e-mail, anything. It was no big deal until August rolled around and we figured it was time to dot the i’s and cross the t’s, as going to jail for nonpayment of taxes has never had much appeal.

True story: The first five years we were married, Mary insisted that since she actually did the taxes, her name should appear on top of all the forms. Shop Boy was cool with that. If she didn’t want my last name, great. Her name carried a better credit rating. Uncle Sam? Not so cool. Well, when the federal documents threatening prison time arrived, and Shop Boy the delinquent fell to the floor and assumed the fetal position, Mary went ballistic. And the IRS dude who answered the phone got a quick, loud lesson in equal rights.

It turns out that the good old boys of the IRS had never read past the first line of the form, as the husband was traditionally the top filer. So Shop Boy hadn’t officially paid taxes in five years! Hey, whoever heard of a husband playing second fiddle to some girl. (Men are pigs.)

Ooooooooh, Mary was steaming. It was still coming out of her ears as she helped a trembling Shop Boy up off the floor and assured me that the IRS bogeyman wasn’t going to get me.

Oh, she still puts her name first on the forms, but apparently the tax MAN got the message. And spread the word.

All right, so by last weekend, Mary was tired of waiting. Typecast Press was at stake here, for heaven’s sake.

See, at first, Mary was worried. She fretted that something terrible had happened to the accountant (depression, illness, death or something) and began sending increasingly concerned e-mails. Then, she was a bit irked at the lack of response to any of them. Now she’d discovered — and believe me … don’t try to hide anything from Mary — that a woman by the same name, fitting the same description, at the same home address had received a variance a few months before to open a dog-grooming salon in the same general area.


Hulk … I mean, um, Mary decided it was time to go knock on (or down) a door. We drove out to the lady’s home and Mary hopped out of the truck. “You be my muscle. Look intimidating,” she told Shop Boy.

You’re laughing, right?

Mary marched up the little path toward the front door, peeking around shrubs and flowers and into windows for signs of life. Then she looked back at the intimidating presence of Shop Boy, shrugged and rang the doorbell. The guy who came to the door was impressed neither by Mary, her, um, attack dog nor her impassioned tale of tracking down a missing accountant.

So when he gave our very concerned but aggrieved Mary the “Whatever, weirdo” brush-off …

“Let’s go,” she fumed as she jumped into the truck. “Just go! Turn right at that next street.”

“Um, where are we going?” Shop Boy asked.

Mary’s mouth said: “To a dog-grooming salon. She’s a dog groomer! She wasn’t even going to tell me?”

Her eyes said: “OK, my accountant’s not dead … yet.”

We parked just outside the front door. “I’ll stay here,” Shop Boy said. (I didn’t want to get blood on a favorite shirt — and we’ve already discussed my aversion to prison.)

“And I’ll wait for you while you’re in the slammer!” I called cheerfully.

“Hmmph!” Mary grunted as she turned the knob to the salon door.

Shop Boy sat and waited. And waited. And waited. This was bad. Shop Boy’s been on the sharp end of a few talking-to’s by our Mary Mashburn. She gets into a groove and — ouch! This lady must be getting pounded in there. Maybe I should go in.

I gave her two more minutes. She emerged at 1:59, laughing. Whew!

Shop Boy: “So, is everything OK?”

Mary: “Yes. She was a little stunned that I’d hunted her down. I mean, kind of shocked to see me.”

Shop Boy: “Guess she doesn’t know you very well.”

Mary: “That, Mr. Smarty … and that tax aren’t due until October. They recently extended the deadline.”

Shop Boy: “And she wasn’t going to tell you that either?”

Mary said the accountant explained that she was planning to call once she got back from vacation in a couple of weeks. Can you imagine? Mary would have been climbing the walls! Now, the accountant didn’t say where she was taking this vacation, but Mary’d have found her. Imagine that seaside surprise.

Afterward, even Mary was stunned by her, um, intestinal fortitude:

“I stalked her. I actually stalked her.”

Hey, she was angry.


Letterpress Lost. No. 48

How about an hour’s worth of music to sleuth, to steam or maybe just do your taxes (filing by April 15 is so outdated) by. Most of these tunes should be available in the usual places. Goofy and great links are to YouTube.

One Way Or AnotherBlondie (She’ll getcha.)
When Will I See You Again?the Three Degrees (Sooner than you think.)
Taxmanthe Beatles (Boys will be boys.)
The Waiting Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (It’s the hardest part.)
OperatorJim Croce (Dropping the dime.)
You May Be RightBilly Joel (Madness … in small doses.)
Dog Eat DogTed Nugent (That’s a mess you wouldn’t want to clean up.)
Death & TaxesBreakin’ the Breakdown (Yeah, they’ll make you scream sometimes.)
Watching the DetectivesElvis Costello (Too many TV police shows.)
Tiptoe Thru’ the Tulips With MeTiny Tim (Ukulele is Hawaiian for “jumping flea.” Fleas are killed by this sound.)
Right Place, Wrong TimeDr. John (Suddenly, there was a knock.)
Little Pig, Little PigGreen Jello (Cartoonish anger.)
Break StuffLimp Bizkit (Just one of those days.)
Gimme Three StepsLynyrd Skynyrd (Excuse me?)
Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems The Notorious BIG (Having issues.)
The Final CountdownEurope (Things get hairy.)
Mr. ColumbusGrace Potter and the Nocturnals (See you in October.)

Letterpress List No. 47: New Tricks

August 12, 2008

One person’s trash is another’s make-ready.

This became readily apparent to Shop Boy when, seeking a little sliver of something … anything … to bring up the impression on one side of a coaster, he resorted to dumpster diving.

OK, it was the trash can. But you get the idea.

Anyway, you know Shop Boy ain’t — no chance, no how — venturing into the large dumpster behind the Fox Industries Building that houses our studio. First off, it’s for heavy industrial waste — might come out of there glowing green or something. (Other tenants use it for whatever garbage we create, food waste and stuff. I have no doubt that some of that is more toxic than Fox Industries’ powders and polymers.) Plus, there are potentially rabid creatures of the night sometimes milling about back there. Rats. Cats. Bats. Rabbits. Raccoons. Coyotes. And yes, sometimes even hookers. Do I look like Marlon Perkins … or, ahem, Hugh Grant … to you?

True story: Shop Boy was new to Baltimore, but not exactly wet behind the ears, when — after a particularly rough go in the newsroom — I happened upon a smiling young person on my way out of the building. “It looks like you had a real bad day,” she said. Shop Boy just kind of sighed, responded “Hi, uh, you don’t know the half of it” or something and walked toward my car. “You want to talk about it, honey?” She was apparently headed the same direction.

Now in those days, the Baltimore Sun had a bunch of pressman who — you boys! — apparently had a thing for the “ladies.” Shop Boy simply (duh!) hadn’t noticed the daily parade. Mostly transvestites, it was said.

Now, I’m not sure if my new friend was male or female. All I knew was here was a nice person walking along chattily on the sidewalk. About 25 feet from my car, the topic changed. Can’t remember the exact words, but they were unsubtle enough that even Shop Boy got the picture. Oh, boy …

“Nice talking with you, miss. Sorry. Um, have a nice day.”

“You sure, baby?”

Oh, 100 percent. You should have heard Mary laugh (with Shop Boy, not at Shop Boy — we do not laugh at the ones we love) when I got home and told her about my, um, slowness on the uptake.

All right. So there I was at Typecast Press, desperate for something that would “goose” the final three words of a line of type that sat beneath a larger solid area on the plate. Now, Mary’s really good at this stuff. She’s got a special cigar box to hold bits of this and that just for the purpose and a full drawer in the flat files exclusively for red boards, acetates and soft paper sheets for general impression adjustment. And speaking of tricks, Mary’s got a neat one in which she puts make-ready off to the side of an underperforming bit of the design — rather than underneath it — to change the way the whole plate makes contact with the tympan/platen. I don’t know exactly why it works, but it does.

Shop Boy’s much less experienced. (Hush!) I didn’t want to bother Mary, who was running a tighter-deadline job in the other part of the studio. So Shop Boy was going to need to make the subtle adjustment himself. (Could something thinner than acetate be unsubtle? You’d be surprised.) I needed a small piece of tissue paper roughly the shape of the state of Maine, which I’d seen somewhere just a few minutes before. Not in the cigar box, which needed some serious restocking. Oh, of course …

Shop Boy had thrown a dirty rag on top of it in the trash can. Geez.

So I reached in, dug it out and, yes, there was grease on it. Seems Shop Boy was going to have to live with the state of Pennsylvania. Well, to make a long story just a little shorter, in a few hours, Shop Boy had banged out enough coasters on the old C&P to stretch end to end from Baltimore to Harrisburg. It wasn’t easy, and it was hot, but with a few make-ready tweaks along the way the coasters ended up looking consistently good.

Mary walked in toward the end of the run. She was headed home to take care of some financial stuff and asked if I’d be up for cleaning both presses when I was done. Hey, if she pays the bills, I’ll do whatever she wants. Call that what you will.

“You sure, baby?”

One hundred percent.

And the little scrap of tissue paper? You kidding? I put it in the make-ready box. It’s Connecticut by now, but I might need it again sometime. This old dog has learned his lesson.


Letterpress List No. 47

How about an hour’s worth of music to help you, um, let off a little steam after a difficult day of work? Most of these tunes should be available in the usual places. Goofy and great video links are to YouTube.

Ready or Notthe Fugees (Found.)
AliceMott the Hoople (Too many johns.)
Industrial DiseaseDire Straits (Bette Davis knees?)
TrashJimmie’s Chicken Shack (A hatchet to the family tree.)
Fried Chicken and GasolineSouthern Culture on the Skids (Dumpster chow.)
Hard Day’s Nightthe Beatles (But feeling all right.)
AnimalsNickelback (Illicit automobile activity.)
Little CreaturesTalking Heads (They can follow such activity.)
Roxannethe Police (Just say no.)
Walk on the Wild SideLou Reed (Doo, doo-doo, doo-doo, doo-doo-doo …)
Desperadothe Eagles (He/she can help you out with that.)
Street Life the Crusaders (Excuse me? What was that again?)
Suddenly I SeeKT Tunstall (Left hanging on a word.)
Paper Dollthe Mills Brothers (Great old stuff.)
Throw It AwayJoe Jackson (Never again.)
Lola the Kinks (Walked like a woman, talked like a man.)
Tricky Run-D.M.C. (No doubt.)
Ziggy StardustDavid Bowie (Androgyny.)
What Do You Do For Money Honey?AC/DC (Shop Boy can be bought.)

Letterpress List No. 46: Drop in the Bucket

August 5, 2008

My father’s a pretty good amateur painter, but he’s sort of funny about his art.

One day Shop Boy was home for a visit, for instance, and all of Dad’s paintings — watercolors — were piled up in a corner behind a door, mostly images of sailboats, lighthouses, rural landscapes.

Dad could’ve made a killing in Baltimore, home of the painted screen. Never heard of that? Dad, neither, or we’d have had one in Cranston, R.I. Sadly, you don’t seen many painted screens even around Baltimore anymore, except perhaps as yuppie kitsch. The screens served several purposes, from adding color to the gritty urban landscape with an idealized view of suburbia to preventing unwanted visitors from seeing inside. An occupant could stand behind the painted screen sticking out his tongue at a vacuum cleaner salesman, for instance, and the dude would go away thinking no one was home. Fun, right?

Well, Wally St. Angelo would have been the king of the screen painters. Of course, Shop Boy’d have grown up thinking a “paramour” is “what you use to cut the grass, hon.”

As it is, Dad chucks his work in a corner. So Shop Boy steals it when he can. And years from now, when an authentic Wally St. Angelo is selling for a cool million bucks or so, who’s going to own that market?

Shop Boy! Mwah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

It’s like I tell Mary: Don’t hide your light under a bushel … or under the top of an old dim sum steamer.

OK, it’s an oddly cool old hand-painted metal thing that we found for 20 bucks at a local junk shop. One man’s trash is another woman’s, um, samples receptacle. Yep, all my favorites are in there: There’s the zombie/woodlands wedding invitation; colorful party invites; the most intricate and lovely, hand-fed, “buy 8, get 1 free” coffee card ever printed (two colors one side, three on the other); the baby announcements; off-kilter “neighborhood napkins”; coasters; business cards … in a big pile. I tend to go on about Mary, but she really is quite talented, and Typecast Press has been cranking out a good number of cool projects.

When you’re busy, who’s got time to actually create a lovely samples book that we can whip out to impress visiting clients? Put it on the to-do list, you know? (Like updating our website’s photos.)

In the meantime, at least we know where all of our samples are. In that funny-looking thing over there.

Just lift the lid. But be careful. It’s, ahem, pretty bright under there.


Letterpress List No. 46

Searchin’the Coasters (It’s there. Keep digging.)
When I Grow UpGarbage ( … I’ll have a samples book.)
CoconutHarry Nilsson (Mix it all up.)
By the WayRed Hot Chili Peppers (Heavy glow beneath the marquee.)
Been Caught StealingJane’s Addiction (Just helping Dad keep the house clean.)
Where It’s AtBeck (Red pot. Gold-painted dragons. Can’t miss it.)
Moments in LoveArt of Noise (Skating by with what we’ve got.)
Big ShotBilly Joel (Putting on a show.)
IfBread (Paint-by-numbers schmaltz, but the girls used to dig it.)
The Long Way HomeSupertramp (Part of the scenery.)
Who Can It Be Now?Men at Work (The big sell.)
UninvitedAlanis Morissette (Talk to the screen.)
Nobody’s HomeKansas (Hiding in plain sight.)
Light My Firethe Doors (No shrinking violet.)
Rockin’ the SuburbsBen Folds (Maybe a bit too much.)
Band-Girls-Money Tsar (Or none of the above, I guess.)
You’re a Star Josie and the Pussycats (And the bushel is lifted …)

Letterpress List No. 45: A Clipped Answer

July 29, 2008

“Nice job on the menus, Shop Boy,” Mary said cheerfully. “What a huge pile you printed.”

Then she looked around.

“Um, Shop Boy … where’s the rest of the paper for … oh, no. That wasn’t for the menus!

Oh, boy.

True story: We lived in a small, brick-front bungalow on South Pearl Street in Denver. Great house. Along one side of the bungalow was a concrete path to the back yard. Along the other side was a path back to a locked gate to that same yard. In front of the gate was a bush — just a huge thing at the height of the season. Well, at one point Shop Boy became convinced that the dense greenery could potentially hide burglars or manglers or whatever — maybe even a jaguar. It was that lush.

I decided to trim it back just a bit.

You know how this goes, right? A little off here, a little off the other side to match it. A little off the top … wait, it’s uneven. A little more off this side, a little more off that side, a little more off the top. Geez. That doesn’t look right at all.

Our neighbor Elizabeth walked up just as Shop Boy had finally achieved perfect evenness.

“Hey, Cousin Bobby!” she chirped.

“Excuse me?” asked Shop Boy.

She explained that her aunt had one day asked a son, who was a bit “slow,” as they used to say, to trim the hedges. An hour later, she looked out the window and shrieked as she saw his handiwork: perfectly even stumps.

Mary arrived just as Elizabeth was finishing the story, took one look at what was left of the bush, looked at Shop Boy and began howling. Man, I thought I was going to have to dial 911. “It’s the plant that needs an ambulance, Cousin Bobby!” she squealed.

Anyway, I know Mary was thinking about that day in Denver as she looked at me and my menus that way in the printshop.

“You poor little man,” Mary whispered as she hugged Shop Boy. “It’s OK. Now we have a nice menu supply for the next emergency order. But it means we have to cut more paper.”

Talk about paying for your mistakes. The paper we use for the 12″ X 12″ Woodberry Kitchen menus is Neenah Environment. It’s a nice, sturdy, textured white paper that’s better for the planet than many papers and apparently repels simple spills, such as do happen in restaurants from time to time. It’s also a big pain to cut. And, dang, do they go through a lot of menus.

Each box of Environment contains 300 sheets — 26″ X 40″ — at oh, let’s say 500 pounds a box. OK, Shop Boy’s being dramatic. But it’s got to be 125 anyway. Carrying this stuff to the cutter, about 50 sheets at a time, is a big, clumsy assignment. So you should see the Fed Ex guy’s face when he shows up with two boxes of it, our usual order, having lugged it up the 15 stairs to the door of Typecast Press.

Bam! He tips the boxes off the dolly and they bang to the floor. “Sign it!” he barks, and then he stomps away.

Now the boxes are my problem. I look them over. No outward sign of distress. But with shipping paper, there’s always damage somewhere. Mary’s gotten so that she simply expects at least one bad corner.

“Just take a little off the top, Shop Boy … no, wait a minute.”


Letterpress List No. 45

How about an hour’s worth of music to seek balance — or just do a little yard work — by? Most of these tunes should be available in the usual places. Goofy and great video links are to YouTube.

Everything ZenBush (I don’t think so.)
Carry On Wayward SonKansas (Wait! Stop!)
I Don’t Feel Like DancingScissor Sisters (Not at all.)
Hip to Be SquareHuey Lewis and the News (It is, ahem, a rather cool menu.)
Hide and SeekImogen Heap (Of course, Shop Boy only meant well.)
CriminalFiona Apple (She could hide behind a fencepost.)
Stairway to HeavenLed Zeppelin (Um, ma’am? There’s apparently a bustle in your hedgerow.)
Jeepster T.Rex (“I’d call you jaguar if I may be so bold.”)
George of the Junglethe Presidents of the United States of America. (Watch out for that … um, it was just here a minute ago. Bobby!)
American Idiot Green Day (Only because it’s a great song, mind you.)
Eat to the BeatBlondie (I recommend the rockfish.)
Loser Beck (A termite choking on a splinter.)
Bad, Bad Leroy BrownJim Croce (A treetop lover.)
Girl U WantDevo (Hanging with Leroy.)
My City Was Gone the Pretenders (Where there was greenery, now only pavement.)
Lookin’ Out My Back DoorCreedence Clearwater Revival (Doo-doo-doo, d’oh!)
King of the Mountain Southern Culture on the Skids (“If your cousin comes ’round, be sure to give a holler.”)

Letterpress List No. 43: All Systems Gone

July 14, 2008

At newspapers, we called it The Morgue. It was the place where published articles, photos and the like were stored for all eternity, or at least until we needed another look at them. Somehow it became a verb: to “morgue” something meant to file a copy of it away.

At the printshop, we simply call it a galley cabinet, the place where trays holding previously used plates, dies and type reside. The trays are numbered so that you can keep track of what’s stored where.

Pretty simple, eh?

It was, when Typecast Press was just starting out. Shop Boy had cleaned the trays and the dusty insides of the first galley cabinet we’d claimed from an old printshop that was dumping its letterpress stuff. We inserted the trays in order, No. 1 to No. 100, drew up a sheet of paper with Nos. 1 to 50 on it, hung it on a clipboard beside the cabinet and waited hopefully for jobs to roll in.

You know the feeling, right? Will this letterpress thing work? Will we ever get to Job No. 10? (Never mind No. 100.)

Well, we did pretty quickly. Soon, we needed another galley cabinet. Cool, right?

So why was Mary cursing, pulling out tray after tray, then slamming each one back into the cabinet? Because she couldn’t find the polymer plate for a restaurant gift card that had been reordered. The first run was about a year ago.

Oh, and about five systems ago, too.

True story: Mary was leaving a job in Denver, where she did design and PR for the Colorado Endowment for the Humanities. She was conscientiously cleaning up behind herself, trying to make sure that the person who replaced her would be able to navigate the nonprofit’s files.

It was late at night — isn’t it always? That part of Denver, LoDo, is now one of the glitziest parts of town. Back then, it wasn’t too cool a spot to be walking around alone late at night. So if Mary was working late, Shop Boy was going to be there. The hero type. That’s me.

So … sometime just before sunrise, Shop Boy was sprawled half-dozing atop a conference table. (There wasn’t a comfy chair in the place.) Mary had spread out on the floor before her an entire filing cabinet worth of photos. She was stumped. How in the world was she supposed to file all this: photos of events, places, people, you name it.

Desperate, she called her sister (a two-hour time difference meant Melissa was already awake for the day) and explained her plight.

Mary: “What should I do? I have no idea how to file all this crazy stuff!”

Melissa (deadpan): “How about alphabetically?

Shop Boy nearly rolled off the table. Soon we were all howling.

Now, Mary’s got a keen mind. She might not know exactly where something is right this second, but she sure can find it in a flash — as long as you don’t move her stacks. She’s just not real good with actual organization. (She learned this from her mom, also Mary Mashburn, the original queen of piles.) When in doubt, Mary invents a new system. After a while, it becomes sort of like spaghetti.

And now, the plate storage “system” was mocking her.

After a while, Shop Boy shooed Mary away from the trays, figuring they’d been slammed enough, and found the needle in the haystack by pure, dumb luck.

That’s my system, and I’m sticking to it.


“There’s got to be a better way to organize this, Shop Boy. What if we … ?”

Shop Boy heard her out, then offered as how perhaps we should morgue her latest system plan. Not for all eternity, perhaps. But at least until we sort out what killed the last one.


Letterpress List No. 43

How about an hour’s worth of music to, oh, I don’t know, alphabetize your files — or CD collection — by? Most of the tunes should be available in the usual places. Goofy and great video links are to YouTube.

ABC the Jackson 5 (Time travel.)
Lose Yourself Eminem (Carpe diem, or something.)
PhotographDef Leppard (Mary’d file this one under “E” for “English guys in tight pants.”)
The Search Is OverSurvivor (Under “L” for lame.)
Where It’s At Beck (He can always find his “weird” button.)
Comfortably NumbPink Floyd (Nowadays, Shop Boy’s a little more prepared.)
Angry Chair Alice in Chains (Not very comfy either. ;-) )
You Get Me LostFreedy Johnston (Doesn’t take much.)
Lost in the Supermarketthe Clash (Shop Boy’s lament — the grocery list as a treasure map.)
Your Number Is OneRollins Band (Looking high, looking low.)
Mary, MaryRun-DMC (Why ya bugging?)
SlamOnyx (Trays feel no pain.)
Finders Keepers, Losers WeepersElvis Presley (So true.)
Gone Daddy GoneGnarls Barkley (Fun update on a Violent Femmes song.)
I’m a Mess — the Murmers (Been there.)
Somewhere Out ThereLinda Ronstadt and James Ingram (OK, Shop Boy’s lost it.)
*&%$ the SystemSystem of a Down (Mary hates the band, but can embrace the notion.)

Letterpress List No. 42: Common Scents

July 3, 2008

Come July and August, Baltimore is a pretty grim place to be if you don’t like humidity.

Shop Boy doesn’t like humidity. (Nor, as we have discussed, does he care for some residents of Baltimore that do.)

“Is that you?” Mary asked, wrinkling up her nose.

“What?” Shop Boy asked defensively. “Look, it’s been a long day, if that’s what you mean.”

Mary should have been born a bloodhound. Dang. She gets a whiff of something out of the ordinary, she’s gonna find out what the heck it is. Shop Boy even uses, ahem, special French soap that Mary buys because she likes the smell. That doesn’t by itself make me a wimp, by the way.

True story: One newspaper that Shop Boy worked for had renovated its restrooms and installed those scent boxes that release a puff of perfume every couple of minutes. So it was that Shop Boy returned home one night and almost immediately was getting strange looks from Mary. Apparently, a molecule or two of the eau de brothel had stuck to my clothing. It wasn’t until I brought Mary to work and made her hang out in the women’s restroom that she fully bought Shop Boy’s innocence.


See, Mary will tell anyone who’ll listen her rules for dealing with a straying husband: He dies. The lover? “Hey, we all make mistakes, right? Get out, hon. You don’t want to see this.”

Shop Boy prefers being alive to the alternative, so … there you go.

Of course, Mary’s parents will also tell anyone who’ll listen that if Mary ever dumps Shop Boy, they’ll find me someone better. Kind of a mutually assured destruction type of deal. Besides, Mary and Shop Boy apparently like each other or something. Who knew?

Anyhow, I’m willing to accept that, as a male member of the species, Shop Boy can get a little funky. After this three-day printshop schedule — Friday: 9 a.m.-2:30 a.m. Saturday: 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Sunday: 10 a.m.-1:30 a.m. — you might be a touch … unfresh as well.

This time, though, it wasn’t me.

After sniffing every single item in the Typecast Press printshop (swear to god), Mary finally produced a humidity-warped sheet of the thick paper we were using to print a really cool wedding invitation and stuck it under Shop Boy’s nose.

“Smell this … it’s horrible.

“No, thank you,” Shop Boy answered. “I’ll take your word for it.”

Oh, once they dried, the invites were fresh as a daisy. But we were a bit traumatized.

The wedding’s in Oregon.

Did I happen to mention that it’s a little moist in Oregon most times of year?


Letterpress List No. 42 (a little early, to beat the holiday weekend)

How about an hour’s worth of music to fill your heart with love, tempt your nostrils with the scent of flowers and wipe any, um, stray thoughts from that simple mind of yours. Most of these tunes should be available in the usual places. Goofy and great video links are to YouTube.

That SmellLynyrd Skynyrd (You fool, you.)
You Oughta KnowAlanis Morissette (A subtle reminder.)
Guilty ConscienceEminem (Favorite part: “Mr. Dre … Mr. NWA … Mr. AK coming Straight Outta Compton, you’re gonna make way?”)
TemptedSqueeze (So not …)
I Think I Smell RatWhite Stripes (Mary once called Baltimore Gas & Electric to report the smell of a gas leak. There was a small leak, BGE said. On the other side of the city.)
Da FunkDaft Punk (Funky.)
Don’t Let’s StartThey Might Be Giants (“I don’t get around how you get around.”)
RosesOutkast (Just playin’.)
Rough JusticeRolling Stones (You’re gonna have to trust me.)
Nearly Lost You Screaming Trees (Not in a million years.)
Boom Boom (Out Go the Lights)Pat Travers Band (For more reasons than that.)
You Know I’m No GoodAmy Winehouse (She ain’t, apparently, but she sure can sing.)
Ball and ChainSocial Distortion (Ha!)
The OneFoo Fighters (She is.)
Scentless ApprenticeNirvana (Sorry. Been a long day.)
It Wasn’t MeShaggy (Deny everything.)
True BlueMadonna (Have to ask the New York Yankees’ third baseman about that one.)
Not That Kind Anastasia (Don’t get on the wrong side of that voice.)
ThinkAretha Franklin (This one either.)
Goodbye Earl the Dixie Chicks (The Mary Mashburn seal of approval.)

Letterpress List No. 41: Blade Runner

June 30, 2008

When I say that there are days when Shop Boy wishes things were a bit more dull around the printshop, I do not mean the cutter blade.

Trust me on that one.

To me, the hydraulic paper cutter, a Chandler & Price with about a 30-inch bite, is kind of like the vicious dog that lives next door. Great to have around, so long as someone else takes main responsibility for it. So ornery and loud he scares bad guys away from your house, too. But then the neighbors go away for the weekend and ask you to go next door and, um, feed their beloved pet. Gulp.

True story: My friend Janet Simmons loves dogs. BIG dogs. Rottweilers, Dobermans and beasts like a notoriously antisocial chow (is there any other kind?) named Bear. It’s been a surprise to Shop Boy, who’d never seen Jan with a dog before he was met one day by her crew. Sheesh.

Now, Shop Boy is generally very good with dogs, if a bit lenient — let Mary tell you about the time I promised to “protect” her from a gargantuan Newfoundland at a dinner party. The pup, about horse high and the length of a football field, took one look at Shop Boy, heard me exclaim “Oh, what a beautiful dog!” and decided I was no challenge. (“Now the scared one over there. How can I make her love me? I know, I’ll smother her with affection.”) There was no stopping this guy. He just shook me off his back.

Or the time I baby-sat Buddy, the big, funky-looking canine next door in Denver. During one famous walk to the park, Shop Boy pleaded helplessly with Buddy not to:

A. Poop on the neighbor’s freshly pruned hedge — right on top! Never seen a physical accomplishment quite like it. Not sure what that neighbor had done to make Buddy mad, but yikes.

B. Drag Shop Boy into oncoming traffic.

C. Take a flying leap into the creek, getting both of us soaked in the process.

“What happened to you two?” Mary asked as we arrived on the front porch.

I pointed at Buddy. Mary shook her head. Buddy just wagged his long, ugly tail.

He was a funny dog. That night, Mary and Shop Boy watched a movie, and Buddy curled up at Shop Boy’s feet as I reached down and petted him. At one point, the film got intense and I straightened up in my chair, my hand leaving Buddy’s head for a moment.

Buddy gently closed his teeth around my hand and pulled it back down.

See, though we don’t have any pets at the moment, I love dogs. But walking up to Jan’s front door in the Boston ‘burbs a few years back and seeing the overstimulated, toothy pack on the other side of the screen …

“Just don’t be afraid,” Jan said. Then she laughed as they raced toward me.

All except Bear. He was roaring and tearing at the other side of the locked door to the basement. “He’ll eat you,” Jan explained helpfully, handing me some dog treats so I could earn the others’ trust — by letting them take the biscuits from my hand!

Well, in an hour or two, we were all pals. Shop Boy called Mary to let her know I’d gotten there safely, informing her that I was speaking from between the jaws of Hershey the Rottweiler, who’d found my chin irresistibly lickable. Then there was Bear, eventually released from the basement and now curled at my feet, Shop Boy’s hand gently petting the chow’s head. (FYI: Until the end of the visit, the hand never broke contact with the dog’s fur. Not sure Bear would have been as subtle as Buddy was.)

Yeah, dogs tend to love me back. The guillotine paper cutter? Let’s not push it.

The cutter does a super job. Loud as heck. Nobody bothers us at the Typecast Press studio while this thing’s running. Sounds like a torture chamber in there, minus the screams …

Until Shop Boy’s got to change the blade, that is.

There we were, Mary convinced that the 34-inch steel blade (it hangs over a bit on each end) needed sharpening and Shop Boy in a flop sweat and full denial mode. “It can’t be dull. We just got the thing and the guy said he sharpened it.”

Typecast Press uses a loft of thick, soft paper, as well as chipboard atop and below the pile to prevent the cutter’s clamp from leaving indentations in that paper. The combination tends to dull a blade more quickly. No use fighting it.

“C’mon, Shop Boy. Don’t be afraid. We can do this,” Mary demanded.

For those unfamiliar, doing this, or changing a guillotine cutter’s blade, involves fully lowering the blade mechanism, loosening and removing the bolts that hold the blade in place, then lifting the carriage away. Finishing the blade removal requires a method Shop Boy prefers to call “grab and pray,” though “pray and grab” seems equally effective — so far — in Shop Boy’s experience. Let me be clear: “Dull,” in the sense of a guillotine cutter, simply means “less razor sharp.” Drop the blade and a piece of you will go away.


The cutter could smell my fear: Just to show which of us was the alpha male, it released a slick of motor oil onto the part of the blade I’d have to lift by. Nice.

But the blade was much lighter than I’d expected, and after a seriously uncomfortable moment or two it was sitting harmlessly in its case, ready for the trip to the sharpener. The guy who’d sold us the cutter had been kind enough to leave behind two extra blades, one sharp and one dull. In the sharp one went, Shop Boy nervously coaxing the blade back and forth and Mary lowering and raising the carriage until the holes for the bolts at last lined up. Funny — there were seven bolt holes on the machine and only six on the blade. Not so funny — the bolts didn’t fit. The seller had accidentally dropped off a blade for a different machine, a Challenge cutter. Ugh.

Anyway, you often realize the best way to do something after you’ve already done it the hard way. For example, if we’d simply used a china marker to map out where the dull blade had fit, swapping in the next blade would have been much easier. (We would have almost certainly noticed right away that we had the wrong blade.) And it wouldn’t have been so tough to put the original blade back in.

Now we faced a tricky cut with an imperfect blade on three sets of business cards that were due.

Oh, well. We’d just have to fudge it and hope for the best. Hey, we’re printers, right? That’s what we do. Besides, Mary’s got a gift for gaming the system.

Meanwhile, the correct backup blade went off to the sharpener.

After a ridiculously brief turnaround — maybe too quick — the sharpened blade was back. Shop Boy summoned his courage once more, then dutifully marked the outline of the exiting blade. We lowered the carriage, removed the bolts, raised the carriage, slid the dull blade out, slid the fresh blade into position, lowered the carriage, tightened the blots and … bang.

“OK, Shop Boy,” Mary said. “Fetch the paper.”

Good boy.

Letterpress List No. 41

How about an hour’s worth of music to soothe the savage beast by. Most of these tunes should be available in the usual places. Goofy and great video links are to YouTube.

Silent All These YearsTori Amos (Her dog won’t bite if you sit real still.)
I Want CandyBow Wow Wow (Doggie treat, anyone?)
Drop It Like It’s HotSnoop Dogg (For Mary.)
Snoopy Vs. the Red Baronthe Royal Guardsmen (Oh, my.)
West End GirlsPet Shop Boys (Built to last.)
Who Let the Dogs Out?Baha Men (Football games would never be the same again.)
Don’t Get Mad, Get Even — Aerosmith (Waking up with fleas.)
UnderdogLisa Loeb (Puppy love.)
The Last of MeBree Sharp (Might not wake up at all, if Ms. Sharp has anything to say about it.)
Gonna Buy Me a Dogthe Monkees (Old dog, new tricks.)
The First Cut Is the Deepest Sheryl Crow (Had no idea this was a Cat Stevens song. Thought Rod Stewart owned it.)
I Wanna Be Your Dog
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts (Down, boy.)
The Day I Tried to Live
Soundgarden (Drop the blade and watch the rolling, um, heads. Hey, is that oil on there?)
What a Good Boy Barenaked Ladies (Newfoundland at 10 o’clock.)
Freak on a Leash Korn (“No, Buddy. C’mon man, don’t poop there!“)
Bite MeElectric Six (Speaking of freaks …)
Bark at the Moon Ozzy Osbourne (He’ll eat you.)
Move It on OverGeorge Thorogood (A crowded doghouse.)
Paper Cut Linkin Park (Ouch.)
Razor Foo Fighters (Day after day, cutting away.)
Cut to the ChaseRush (Back to work!)

Letterpress List No. 40: Dear God

June 23, 2008

Today’s reading is from a letter from St. Angelo to the Letterpressians.

Mary sometimes ribs Shop Boy for being a bit, um, elliptical in some of my longer posts. She says I’m channeling the Rev. Roger Gench, our cool former pastor, who’d start a sermon on the tiniest thread of an idea, ramble off through a tangle of tangents and then, just as we began to wonder where the heck he was going with this, he’d deliver his zinger ending that put a lovely bow on top of the whole perfect mess.

And this is an insult?

Now, Shop Boy is not much of a religious guy. If you are, that’s great. God created room for us all.

Shop Boy’s mom, unfortunately, believed that her son was altar boy material. Every Sunday, she’d push me out the door for the 30-minute walk to St. Matthew’s Catholic Church in Cranston, R.I. You can’t imagine how often I took the Lord’s name in vain during these marches, knowing that my five exempt sisters were still in bed. Oooh. And if I ever tried to pull a fast one, “oversleeping” and missing the service, my mom would remind me that there was a 5 p.m. mass over at St. Mark’s, an even longer walk.

Anyway, Shop Boy mostly made up a phony list of, ahem, lesser sins to confess to the priest, daydreamed through the mass, then walked home. Except when Monsignor Brennan was running the thing. Oh, boy, this dude’s funny cadence and accent! Even as a native Rhode Island kid, I couldn’t helping cracking up: “Take this, alla yous … and eat it.” Yous sounded like “yizz,” by the way. Then he’d chug the blood of Christ like a sailor on shore leave. And his sermons … my heavens! That Shop Boy didn’t wet his pants was the true miracle.

Altar boy? Hah! Besides, Shawn was an altar boy. ‘Nuff said.

Church makes me laugh. I can’t help it. Maybe it’s the discomfort at the very idea of death and forever and hell and all that. I just get wound up so tight and then … the littlest thing sets me off.

Like at my grandfather’s wake. Believe me, I loved the old guy, an Italian immigrant and big band trumpeter who opened his own general store after his “lip went.” A dear, gentle fellow. I also love my dad, who was losing a parent for the first time. Still, when my brother-in-law Barry Rappoport, during an innocent discussion of life and death, whispered, “It’s like you’re there one minute, then … arriva-derch!” — Archie Bunker style — a laugh began welling in my gut. It was unstoppable. The more mortified and desperate I became to control the giggles, the more I shook and squeaked. My eyes were bursting with tears.

And then Shop Boy saw Dad and Uncle Jimmy.

“Look at this guy,” Jimmy said.

“Too many years of playing football without a helmet,” my dad sneered, looking back toward his father in the coffin.

For about 30 years, the moment ate away at my soul. Finally, sitting at a bar somewhere, just two guys, I explained what happened — not Barry’s fault — and begged Dad’s forgiveness. He didn’t even remember it. We had a good laugh at my expense. And he gave me a big hug when I left for home.

Or how about that time when a friend of Mary and Shop Boy, Rachel Cunningham, brought her young son Evan to church on the day when the Rev. Andrew Foster Connors decided to do a special service with chairs arranged in a tight circle? You could have heard a pin drop as the minister began his opening prayer “Dear God …”

You could also have heard this echo, courtesy of Evan, from a block away: “DEAR GOD!”

Each time Andrew would collect himself and start over, Evan would enthusiastically holler the response. Shop Boy was quietly hysterical.

And maybe one of the funniest things of all was the pre-Christmas party where Shop Boy “helped” a local minister write her holiday homily.


Now where was I going with that?

Oh, I know: Shop Boy writes this blog to make Mary laugh, to release the common frustrations of starting a business from scratch, and also just to tell stories that one more crack to the noggin in the printshop might some day erase. But folks have given Typecast Press some very nice feedback, and even some business, based on this blog. And as we’ve been crazy busy the past few months — yes! somebody’s watching over us! — and my posts have at times decreased in frequency — if not length! fuggedaboutit! — some of you have kept coming back.

It’s something Shop Boy is grateful for, especially after I’ve now gone on for 80-some posts and 40 music lists over 10-plus months. (What, you expected some kind of normal, sensible, round-numbered milestone celebration? If you did, you just haven’t been paying close enough attention here.) Anyway, thanks for reading.

Now, keep checking in with Shop Boy or you’ll burn for eternity.


Oh, and arriva-derch!


Letterpress List No. 40

How about an hour’s worth — actually a little more than that this week (divine inspiration, I guess) — of music to ponder life’s great questions by — like “What the heck are you talking about, Shop Boy?” — or to simply be thankful for? Most of these tunes should be available in the usual places. Great and goofy links are to YouTube.

Round and RoundRatt (Elliptical … hmmphh!)
The Long and Winding Roadthe Beatles (Ditto.)
Go With the FlowQueens of the Stone Age (Stay with me, people.)
FaithGeorge Michael (Love this song. Limp Bizkit’s, um, alternate version, too.)
SuperheroAni DiFranco (Found religion in the greeting card aisle.)
SanctifiedNine Inch Nails (Touring the nicest parts of hell.)
ShineCollective Soul (Soaking it in.)
TestifyDaniela Cotton (She does that.)
Dear God XTC (Sort of a love-it-or-hate-it song.)
Tears in HeavenEric Clapton (Another one: Mary hates this. Shop Boy cries.)
Spaceball RicochetT. Rex (On Shop Boy’s album version, apparently recorded in Rhode Island, the minister of weird lyrics sings that he’s “got a house in his heart that can hold just about alla yous.” Ha!)
Craig Stephen Lynch (Watch for lightning strikes.)
Lightning CrashesLive (Told you.)
Southern CrossCrosby, Stills & Nash (A warm embrace.)
Chocolate JesusTom Waits (To each His own.)
Under the Milky Waythe Church (Midnight mass?)
Steel Guitar Heaven Ry Cooder (Brand new! OK, for this, we’ll forgive him his sins.)
Crucify Tori Amos (Where are those angels when you need them?)
Don’t Kill Hamell on Trial (“Thou” means “you.”)
My ImmortalEvanescence (Fallen.)
HeavenTalking Heads (The big picnic in the sky.)
Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire Jimi Hendrix (Getting warm in here.)
Hot Hot HotBuster Poindexter (This must be the place.)
Wayward AngelKasey Chambers (Sorry, Mom.)
HellSquirrel Nut Zippers (Serious strife.)
Ha Ha You’re DeadGreen Day (Gulp!)

Letterpress List No. 39: All Clammy

June 17, 2008

My brother-in-law told me to stick it.

Oh, he had his reasons, I suppose. My oldest sister, Margaret, was visiting with husband Dante Laorenza II (ahem) and we needed to get the show on the road. A local restaurant had called. Our client had just noticed that it needed menus and coasters, like, now.

Is there an echo in here?

Great. So we piled Margaret and Dan into the car and dashed over to Typecast Press. There, they had to sit and watch while we sweated through a menu run. Letterpress as a spectator sport? Not so much.

Shop Boy wanted to give Dan a shot at running the hand-fed, 12X18 Chandler & Price — who doesn’t want to get their hands on/in these old machines, right? Instead, I just had to crash the menus out. Black first. Print and set aside. Clean press. Sweat buckets. Red next. Stack, print, stack, package, run to the restaurant. Dash back. Clean press. Sweat more.

Did Shop Boy mention that he was on vacation? Oh, don’t get me started.

We talked the restaurant into waiting a day for coasters, which was cool because then I could let Dan try out the press feeding … left-handed, of course.

But only if we could get the stinking adhesive backing of the polymer coaster plate to, um, adhere. This had been an issue during the winter, and we chalked it up then to the cold.

Guess not. Because it was at least 85 degrees in the shop as we waited for the A/C to cool things down. And the sucker was not sticking to the Boxcar base — the chunk of steel that makes polymer plates type high. Again we ended up simply taping the plate to the base as best we could. Shop Boy ran a few practice coasters, then called in the ringer. Dan’s a printer by trade — modern offset stuff. (Margaret’s a personal trainer.) He hadn’t run a C&P in about 30 years, but he was game.

True story: It was Dan who helped get me my favorite — if craziest — high school job at the chowder hall of the now defunct Rocky Point amusement park in Warwick, R.I. Dan supplied many of the old photos for and appears in a documentary they made about the place, You Must Be This Tall: The Story of Rocky Point Park. I haven’t seen it yet, but can’t wait. At the Shore Dinner Hall, we washed tureens that had been filled with and mostly emptied of red clam chowder and plates that had held clamcakes (for any southerners out here, think hush puppies with tons of pepper and a few clam bits) and watermelon. We also unloaded produce trucks and did general food prep.


This was the cue for us to come to the kitchen, where we’d grab a huge, heavy, steaming metal pot of chowder and carry it down the steep, curving, concrete steps to the takeout window at street level. That was a challenge, man. And Mike and Shop Boy were always the first to come running. (The girls at the takeout window — wow.) Anyway, Mike was extremely tall and Shop Boy was and ever shall be less than vertically gifted. So imagine the two of us, like Laurel and Hardy, each hanging onto one handle, negotiating this staircase without tipping the pot and scalding ourselves. Hah. Just let it out — owwwwwwwwww! — and keep moving. Flirting with the girls was the perfect balm, and even (almost) worth this:


Clamcake batter (hey, it’s Rhode Island — aka Ro Dylin), heavy as lead. Same drill. At least it didn’t burn.

The boss, Conrad Sr., was a madman. His son, on the wrong day, was flat scary. Shop Boy kind of knew he was in trouble with old crankypants when one day we were peeling sack after sack of onions and I thought it would be funny to make up really sad stories. Well, soon were all crying our eyes out — oh, the onions! — wailing and laughing ourselves silly.

Conrad walked in just as we began hyperventilating and went all Vince Lombardi on us. He was a jerk, but he wasn’t stupid, and Conrad pretty quickly figured out who was behind the nonsense.

“You. I don’t think I like you very much,” he snapped at Shop Boy.


Another ominous sign: Shop Boy biked a pretty long distance to work, but arrived early enough to change out of the sweaty clothes and into work gear. Conrad was waiting one morning. “What the hell you doing showing up at my place like this?” As I tried to explain my routine, he pulled me sweaty clothes and all into the kitchen, opened the door to the cooler and ordered me inside. I’d cut a shipment of watermelon the previous evening, neatly stacked the pieces six to a plate and set them in the cooler. (Dan’s dad, the original Dante and a really nice man, taught me to cut the melons rapid fire with a machete. And I worry about being maimed by presses. Hah.) Well, a third of the plates were now empty and watermelon rinds were all over the place. The wait staff, grazing as usual.

“You clean this up,” Conrad spat at me, sticking his finger in my face, “and you stand in here and you tell anybody who comes in here to eat my watermelon don’t come in here and eat my watermelon.”

Then there was the day I called in sick — not, amazingly, from standing in the cooler.

“What kinda sick you got?” Conrad demanded. (Shop Boy clearly was not convincing enough.) “You call me tomorrow and I tell you if I need you anymore.”

He didn’t.

Shop Boy felt crummy — not so much about being fired because I was leaving for college soon anyway, but for letting down Dan and his dad, Dante Laorenza I.

D.L. II has never give me a hard time about it. And he’s been great about sharing cross-platform printing tips.

“Did you ever try a different kind of backing for these plates? Like Sticky Back?” he asked as Shop Boy desperately held the plate against the metal base, arms stuck in the mouth of the C&P, while Mary grabbed the tape. Turns out the adhesive backing we’ve been using is not the only type available. It came with our first plates and we just kept on with it. Having worked a long time in the business, Dan is sure he can find something that will do the trick. Just in case, he took a couple of our old plates to do some experimenting with.

Filled with gratitude, Shop Boy did what anyone would do in the situation. I put Dan to work.

Well, offset schmoffset. Once he stopped his right hand from involuntarily feeding the coasters on the wrong side of the guides — Mary! — the 30 years melted away. In no time flat, Shop Boy was dropping off the finished coasters and breathing a sigh of relief.

And Dan was getting a taste of our local bit of seafood weirdness, the crabcake.

His take?

Sticking with clamcakes.


Letterpress List No. 39

How about an hour’s worth of music to take your mind off a bad boss or, heck, just to eat watermelon by. Pass the machete. Most of these tunes should be available at the usual places. Great and goofy video links are to YouTube.

Echo — Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (There may have been a girl … at the takeout window … but there never was a kiss.)
Vacationthe Go-Gos (All I ever wanted.)
Bicycle RaceQueen (Saving on a change of clothes.)
Sweating BulletsMegadeth (A misfit’s way of life.)
ClocksColdplay (I was in the cooler for about two hours. Number of waiters/waitresses stopped from eating watermelon: 0)
Too Cool to Be ForgottenLucinda Williams (Hey-hey.)
I’m Chillin’Kurtis Blow (Old school.)
Stone Cold Rainbow (Seemed cool at the time.)
Girls in Their Summer ClothesBruce Springsteen (The Boss.)
Summertime GirlsY&T (Can’t help yourself when you’re 18.)
Peelin’ TatersJunior Brown (Doing dumb things to cool music.)
Fired Ben Folds (Never get sick of it.)
Can I Get Get Get Junior Senior — (All shapes and sizes.)
Walk This Way — Aerosmith (A wonder they could walk at all.)
Rhode Island Is Famous for You — Erin McKeown (The old Blossom Dearie tune.)
Wait and Bleed Slipknot (Oddly decipherable for these guys.)
The Hand That FeedsNine Inch Nails (Welcome back, Dan. Letterpress has missed you.)
BreatheNickelback (When these guys rock, they rock. Other times? Ewww.)

Letterpress List No. 38: Stand in Awe

June 3, 2008

In one moment of glory, all the bumbling that had preceded it was forgotten.

Shop Boy could be talking about Manny Ramirez’s 500th home run on Saturday here in Baltimore, which left all of the Boston fans dancing and cheering. (They flood the stadium whenever the Sox are in town, which is possible because Baltimore’s own fans never show up. Well? Am I right?) Anyway, as Manny stood and appreciated his majestic shot, the two fly balls that he clumsily misplayed earlier in the game suddenly didn’t matter. Amazing.

Geez. Talk about channeling Shop Boy.

See, about a week ago, Typecast Press reached its own historic milestone: Art on the walls.

We’ll pause here while the applause dies down a bit.

Yeah, what he said. (This, by the way, is a lousy photo of really cool card Typecast Press created for Stacey Mink and Geoff Brown — wood type and an old magnesium plate — to show their appreciation for those who’d helped turn Baltimore’s Night of 100 Elvises into their personal wedding rehearsal dinner.)

Oh, we’d decorated the studio some. You know … the requisite printshop girlie calender and such. But now that we’d finished with all the painting and arranging of the studio, it became obvious that something was missing.

Like this, for instance:

This illustration of creepy/cool Baltimore filmmaker John Waters, by off-kilter/cool local artist Greg Houston, has long been one of Shop Boy’s favorites. I bought the original after it appeared in the Baltimore Sun and it had been sitting in an art drawer ever since.

This image joins works by locals Andy Snair, Jess Pegorsch of Tilt Studio, Jordan Faye Block and Chris Hartlove on the studio walls or at the framer’s shop. (Not to drop names or anything.) Oh, and if you’ve never bought anything from illustrator Lynda J. Barry then you have no idea of how whimsical and fun gift wrapping can be.

Mary is, by the way, no slouch in that department either.

Of course, it’s never simply a matter of having art and the space to hang it. Oh, that’s good enough for Shop Boy — “Hey, that’d look great here.” Bang. Done. — but not Mary. She needs to see the art in every potential spot and in any number of combinations before deciding. This can leave Shop Boy perhaps leaning awkwardly across the back of a printing press and standing on one foot holding, say, three pieces of art against the wall while Mary ponders.

Mary: “A little higher on the left picture and lower on the right one. Can you put the big one where the small one is?”

Shop Boy: “Ugh … OK.”

Mary: “Whoa, whoa! Micro moves, Shop Boy … not macro moves.”

Shop Boy: “C’mon. My arms are getting tired. They look great. Let’s hang them.”

Mary: “What do you think?”

Shop Boy: “I can’t see them. I’m upside-down over here.”

Mary: “Oh, just let me do it. Don’t be so impatient. Why are you in such a bad mood?”

Ooooh …

Wasn’t …

Am now.

But we breathe and move on to the next wall. And the next.

And when all the art’s up, Shop Boy puts his arms around Mary and we admire the place. You might call it a masterpiece.

Shop Boy: “You’re a genius, Mary.”

Mary: “No, you’re a genius, Shop Boy.”

Eat your heart out, Manny.


Letterpress List No. 38

How about an hour’s worth of music to curse out Boston Red Sox fans by?

Now we’re not here to talk about baseball, but …

True story: Geoff Brown, an Orioles fan who does show up, had invited me to the game despite my own, um, baseball loyalties. Anyway, Shop Boy is a bit directionally challenged sometimes. So after purchasing refreshments, I suddenly found myself in the middle of an aisle, completely unable to recognize any landmarks. After standing and looking around like a complete nimrod for what seemed like a half-hour, I hear Geoff — a quiet man in general — screaming his lungs out to me from a section over. Had to be mortifying. Good thing I was carrying beer. Ah, just Shop Boy being Shop Boy.

(Sorry, Red Sox insider joke.)

Oh, I mentioned that Geoff is an outwardly mellow type of dude. What I left out is that, if you happen to be a pack of beefy Sox fans dressed all in team colors and slowly, smugly and defiantly strolling across the street in front of his vehicle on the way home, you’re gonna hear a different side of the man:“@%$#@&* +&%%$##, Boston scum!”

Of course, when we then got stuck at a red light 15 feet up the street from the targets of his abuse, Geoff half whispered, “Uh, geez, I was kind a hoping this light could maybe, um, change?” Oh, man. Shop Boy just about fell out of the truck. For a quiet guy, Geoff’s a scream. (Here’s his blog.)

Cue the music! Most of these tunes should be available at the usual places. Great and goofy video links are to YouTube.

Sweet MemoryMelody Gardot (Sweet for a Sox fan, anyway.)
Barroom HeroDropkick Murphys (Damn Boston punks.)
On the Way Out — Freedy Johnston (Stealing away.)
All Fired UpInterpol (International incident avoided.)
The Pedestrian Foxboro Hot Tubs, aka Green Day & Pals ( ;-) .)
Beat Box — Art of Noise (More peds!)
Picture ThisBlondie (Many a young man did.)
Walk Like a ManDivine (John Waters’ wacky diva.)
Minstrel in the GalleryJethro Tull (An artist admiring his own work? Manny, Manny, Manny …)
Draw the LineAerosmith (Jagged edges.)
Portrait (He Knew) Kansas (Obvious one, but a Shop Boy favorite.)
Framed Cheech & Chong (First, second and third degree.)
Hang Firethe Rolling Stones (What the hell.)
Beer RunGeorge Jones/Garth Brooks (We’re in.)
You Get Me LostFreedy Johnston (Shop Boy once wandered around Dodger Stadium for 45 minutes seeking his seat. Never found it. Went home.)
Nice Guys Finish LastGreen Day (Not always, despite this song from the album … Nimrod.)
The Boys Are Back in TownThin Lizzy (Red Sox fans’ invasion stalled temporarily by a river of invective.)

Letterpress List No. 37: Lead Astray

May 29, 2008

The hieroglyphics of the ancient Egyptians have for eons been pored over by brilliant minds seeking clues to the thinking and beliefs of their makers. The meaning behind many of these picture writings has yet to be fully unlocked. Perhaps thousands of years from now, archaeologists will still be puzzling over them.

Ditto for old Mr. Wilhelm’s system for marking the trays of lead type in his California Job Case.

Shop Boy’s still digging.

For the uninitiated, type trays work a little like the QWERTY keyboard on your typewriter/computer — the idea is to place the letters not necessarily where they fall alphabetically but where they make the most sense. In the type tray, letters that are used constantly and are thus more numerous, like E’s, get a larger, more central spot on the tray, which is about 3 feet wide and 2 feet deep. Semicolons get a smaller, less central spot. Hey, you whippersnappers might also be interested in this tidbit, which Shop Boy hadn’t thought much about before Typecast Press: The descriptions “uppercase” and “lowercase” for letters once meant just that — reach up for the capital letters and reach down for the non-caps.

When the type is filed correctly, the person setting the verbiage to be printed, having memorized this system, is able to quickly pluck the proper characters and build words on the composing stick — a steel tray that helps you set lines to the correct width and lock them in so they can be moved to the chase and then to the press without falling to pieces on the floor, or “pieing.”

All right, so you’ve got a guy who has way more type than trays. He doubles up fonts in a tray, then triples them for good measure. But sometimes only two fonts’ worth of the capital letters, which are larger, can fit in the proper box. So, he invents a system in which perhaps the orphan capital letters sit where the semicolons, colons, quotation marks and percentage signs (of which there are few) should be, the semicolons share a bunk with the dollar signs, the colons move in with the parentheses, the quotation marks go, um, here and the percentage signs go, uh, there’s good. Just mark the wood next to them. Oh, darn. Those little spaces can accommodate only half of the capital letters of your font. What to do? Easy. Just make a notation: “More capital letters of 24-point Brush font in tray 11.”


Now, Shop Boy shouldn’t mock Mr. Wilhelm, who ran a tidy little printshop in his Baltimore County basement, left behind when he died a few years back. Typecast Press bought the shop lock, stock and barrel — at pennies per pound, believe me — from his patient widow, who was selling the house. We’ve got samples of his fastidious work, so we know he was a fine craftsman.

But … dude! The type. Some of his markings are like a pirate’s treasure map. Shop Boy seriously considered a seance: “Sir, where the heck did you put the (insert name of character here)?”

Anyway, it all had been sitting in the corner of our shop for two years, stacked in and atop a simple, modern wooden job case. Shop Boy couldn’t face it, even after he and Mary’s dad had built the, ahem, really cool tray case/desk to replace it and hold the beautiful antique type drawers we’d accumulated. See, in order to remove the modern job case — we needed the space — all those fonts had to be sorted and placed one character at a time into the “new” drawers.

Each case has taken approximately three hours to decipher and sort. Ugh.

Did I mention there were about 20 trays?

But Shop Boy’s a good bit of the way through. And I think I’ve got a system. See, where a typeface hasn’t fit exactly right, I’ve just improvised a little. OK, a lot. Doubled up here and there …


Oh, tut-tut. Not to worry …

I’ve made a whole bunch of totally clear notations on the tops, sides and bottoms of the trays.

Letterpress List No. 27

How about an hour’s worth of music to decipher hieroglyphics or sort tiny bits of lead by while two of the prettiest days of spring pass by outside? Most tunes should be available at the usual places. Goofy and great links are to YouTube.

Touch of Grey Grateful Dead (Gray/silver chunks of lead, one character at a time.)
Wish You Were HerePink Floyd (Could use a few extra hands.)
Take a Letter, Maria Tony Orlando and Dawn (That’d help.)
Come Out and Play the Offspring (No can do — gotta keep ’em separated.)
Fun Fun Funthe Beach Boys (Ditto.)
Walk Like an Egyptianthe Puppini Sisters (The Bangles’ version melts Shop Boy’s brain, so he limits views.)
Yesterday’s Over — the Pietasters (Just try to forget the pied type.)
Pick Up the PiecesAverage White Band (Some might say this band name fits most of my musical choices. Shop Boy’s trying, believe me. Got some remedial learning to do. Mary’s helping.)
Rock and RollRasputina (Led Zeppelin via viola and cello — cameraman still tripping from the 1960s.)
Doll-Dagga Buzz-Buzz Ziggety-Zag — Marilyn Manson (To all the goose step girlies with the cursive faces.)
Stacked Actors — the Foo Fighters (Type trays stacked to the rafters.)
The Dangerous Type — the Cars (After a few hours of picking type, the cuticles of a newbie tend to bleed a bit.)
Alpha Beta Parking Lot Cake (Left to sort alone.)
The Midnight SpecialLead Belly (Here we go again.)
See Me, Feel Me/Listening to Youthe Who (Tell me, Mr. Wilhelm …)
King TutSteve Martin (How’d he get so funky?)

Letterpress List No. 36: Tool

May 20, 2008

A shark hunter? Shop Boy? Hah!

But there the thing was, writhing on a Delaware beach, having spun itself into a tangle in my fishing line. Now, we aren’t talking great white here. But it was a shark — only about 4 or 5 feet long from tip of nose to end of tail, and I might even be exaggerating, but whatever — that had the misfortune of snacking on a bit of squid or something I’d stuck on a hook. (We were hoping to catch bluefish or maybe stripers.) Its teeth looked all grown up to me. So while I rolled the shark on the wet sand to try to free it from the tangle, I tried to think what in the world I was going to use to retrieve the hook from those choppers. I hadn’t thought to bring a knife or pliers.


So the hook at least would have to stay. Oh, sharks shed their teeth at such a rapid clip that he’d probably spit the thing out on his own in a few weeks. But we had only a few more days at the beachhouse. And it was getting dark.

Anyway, the shark was still spinning and, even though I’d pulled him back into the surf — I know, but I thought he was going to die otherwise — there was no way to break the line and untangle him for good. I’ve used my teeth to snap lighter line, but that wasn’t happening here on this heavy test. Shop Boy’s dentist is quick enough with the drill as it is.

Then it hit me: Wayne’s fingernail clippers. Mary’s always complaining about her dad’s manicure habits. Snip. Snip. Snip. Snip. Snip. Snip. Snip. Snip. Snip. Snip. What’s so annoying about that? I shouted to Wayne, who reached into his pocket and … um … Snip. The shark was free. Sort of. Now he was being pushed onto the beach by the waves, too tired to fight the surf.

So I picked him up! And carried him in my arms like a puppy out past the breakers! And set him free! And then got the heck out of the water! And I’ve never stopped talking about it since! And neither, Shop Boy’s sure, has the lady who swims in the area and stopped by to ask, “Was that a real shark?”

And who cares?

OK, good question. But Shop Boy couldn’t help but think of his big fish story while puzzling over how in the world to feed a bolt behind and then through the support of the new shelves at the Typecast Press studio. Of course, if I spent the next two hours unloading the freshly organized shelves, plus the ones that locked them into the corner, I could slide everything over to make room. Just like if I’d brought a knife to the beach, the shark never would have left the water in the first place — and what kind of story would that be?

As it was, there was barely enough room for the bolt to pass between the support and the wall. But I needed to somehow reach around, feed it back toward me a few inches, then turn the bolt 90 degrees through an opening, where it would attach to one end of a wire stringer.

Eye of the needle stuff, you know?

Well, none of the tools I had on hand was slender enough to be of help. So after fumbling with and dropping the stinker about five times, I started looking around.

Think, Shop Boy, think: Snip. Snip. Snip. Snip …

Snap! A rubber band! Sitting right in front of me.

Shop Boy grabbed it, wound it up nice and tight until it was long and narrow, fed it through the hole and then let it unspool, sort of the opposite of the shark — see? It’s all connected in Shop Boy’s world.


Like a lasso, the rubber band fit over the end of the bolt and, with a bit of coaxing, the end of the bolt eventually poked through. A few minutes later, the brace was solidly in place.

Now for the curtains. Yeah, curtains. You got a problem with that, tough guy? Call me Heidi Klum’s … um … lesser if you want. But Shop Boy even folded over the eight tabs at the top of each curtain to shorten the things a bit, then put a gold-colored grommet on each one to hold it in place and look kinda cool. Next, I’m going to hem them. OK? By the time I’m done, we’ll have beautifully covered up the ugly stuff on the shelves and protected the rest from dust.

And Shop Boy will have survived another challenge. So there.

Letterpress List No. 36

How about an hour’s worth of music to craft by … or at least to pass the 57 minutes of inane dialogue (sorry, Shop Boy shouldn’t talk) before Heidi issues the final “auf wiedersehen” to our parting contestant. Most of the tunes should be available in the usual places. Goofy and great links are to YouTube.

Pulling Me Undere.joseph (Good friend Eleanor Lewis, who’s tipped Shop Boy off to some real cool music — Duke Spirit, Rilo Kiley, etc. — suggested this one. Check it out at the MySpace site, which offers a free download of another one, “Changing Trains” — a limited time offer.)
Deepest Bluest (Shark’s Fin)
LL Cool J (From an awesomely bad movie, Deep Blue Sea.)
MalibuHole (As the sun goes down, I walk into the waves.)
Cover of the Rolling StoneDr. Hook (The thrill that’ll get you.)
The Set Up (You Need This)Reel Big Fish (It’s not cruel. Almost, maybe.)
NightswimmingR.E.M. (The fear of getting caught.)
Theme from JawsJohn Williams (Snip……..Snip. Snip…..Snip. Snip….Snip. Snip…Snip. Snip-Snip-Snip-Snip-Snip-Snip-Snip-Snip-Snip-
SquidLos Straitjackets (There are no words …)
Bite MeElectric Six (Ready for the crazy-crazy?)
VicariousTool (You kind of had to be there.)
I Got a Line on You — Spirit (Honest mistake.)
Don’t Get It TwistedGwen Stefani (Hold still.)
Face to FaceSiouxie and the Banshees (Sushi! Get it? Oh, I kill myself sometimes.)
Hey StoopidAlice Cooper (‘Nuff said.)
Rubberband Manthe Spinners (Prepare yourself.)
Auf WiedersehenCheap Trick (Mary’s hooked on Bravo’s Project Runway and apparently I’ve gotten a bit too close myself. Also, Shop Boy’s mom had a bit of a “you wrecked ’em, you fix ’em” approach to clothing repair.)
Tiny DancerElton John (Seamstress for the band. To paraphrase another Bravo reality show putdown: “I’m not your lesser, Lesser!)
Use the Man Megadeth (Seen the man use the needle.)
Wipe Outthe Surfaris (Ahhh, smell the ocean.)
Rescue MeFontella Bass (A tidal wave.)

Letterpress List No. 33: Lounge Lizards

April 29, 2008

Never shoot pool with a guy who has lightning in his fingers.

Unless, of course, you’ve “grounded” him with four days of shelf building, wall scraping, spackling, painting, hammering, standing on ladders, hauling, pushing, stooping, standing, kneeling, crawling, sweating, bleeding and, of course, burning (we’ll get to that last one later).

Yep, Mary’s mom and dad had once again wandered too close to the letterpress vortex. (They’d been warned.) And so while the original Mary Mashburn kept us going with cakes, sandwiches and lemonade and just generally tried to inject some reason into the proceedings (and stay out of harm’s way), Wayne Mashburn, Mary Jr. and Shop Boy tore three rooms to pieces in the name of organization.

By the way, “organization” wasn’t the name that our neighbors or our roommate were referring to us by at one point or another during the weekend.

Sorry? Forget sorry. Think process, as in … it’s all part of the process. C’mon, repeat it with me: It’s all part of the process. Hydraulic paper cutter in, shift all the other pieces. Heidelberg Windmill in, shift the entire contents of a doomed closet to, let’s see, a pile here and pile there, pile it on top of that other pile. Type cabinet in … um …

OK, we sort of had a plan. Typecast Press and Chris Hartlove, our studio mate, were about to become closer than ever. Having moved much of his stuff to a home studio and having switched to mostly digital photography, Chris had decided he needed less of the space on his side of the suite. The idea was to rearrange things on his side to accommodate a little of the Typecast Press overflow while also creating a shared lounge area. We’d bought a really cool old red/orange loveseat and two shiny steel, hipster ashtrays to use as cocktail tables. A rug, a chair, a barstool and the fridge and we’d be chilling.

Mary also figured a paint job might be nice, from gray/lavender to — oh my gosh — lemon/lime. (From Chris, used to keeping his space dimly lit: “I won’t need lights at all now.”) And while we’re down there adding a fresh white coat of paint to the trim, how about “tightening up” the baseboard — read: mouse-proofing — with an extra piece of quarter-round and some steel wool? How hard could that be? Hee-hee. Well, we kind of had to do it first, working around all the obstacles. So it went a little something like Twister. (Right foot blue, left thumb red.) And the hammering. Dang, it was loud. The trim nails went through the quarter-round and the wood floor, then often as not hit concrete and bent. Curse, pull, repeat.

Anyway, none of the fun stuff was going to happen without storage space materializing somewhere, and renting another room wasn’t really an option. The closet demolition had left an L shape around the right side and back of the windmill press, about three feet of clearance on the right and two on the back. Room for shelves, if we kept them skinny enough. To build them — and an additional stack in the little utility closet behind our main work area — we’d just have to pile everything into the hallway between our studio spaces and avoid the glares of the woman who gives massages a few doors down, the large martial arts guy who leads classes on the weekend and their customers, who were paying to step over boxes, bits of machinery and filing cabinet drawers.

Then, once Chris’ space was painted, we could try all the pieces in all the different spots. Mary knows perfection when she sees it, and won’t accept any whining about the quest. (It’s all part of the process.)

Now we just needed some free labor. Where were we going to find that?


Now Wayne could not have anticipated this mess when he booked the flight from Colorado Springs to North Carolina, where he and Mama would visit relatives; to Baltimore and Typecast Press labor camp; and to Massachusetts, where sister Melissa and her hubby Tom promised the upheaval of clearing space for new flooring in the main living area. Could he have?

At one point, Shop Boy asked Mama why she and Wayne would subject themselves to such a schedule.

“It just makes us that much more eager to leave you all and happy to get home,” she chirped.



Letterpress List No. 33

Now about that burning. A lounge needs a fridge, no? Well, one version of the floor plan included moving it to the opposite side of the room, using an electrical outlet that Shop Boy had not been aware of. The two-prong outlet looked fine from a distance, but up close you could see it had been painted over some years ago — almost sealed, in fact. We’d popped off the old plate during the paint job. Well, Wayne figured he’d see whether it worked. He took a three-prong adapter with a ground (it fits around the screw), a new metal plate and a screwdriver and set about plugging the thing in. Trouble was, he apparently found a frayed wire before he could ground the adapter. Zap! The adapter, screwdriver and plate went flying as Wayne’s hand recoiled and a roman candle came shooting out of the socket before the circuit breaker tripped.

We were freaked. Wayne? He just mumbled something like, “Well, that wasn’t too smart,” glanced at his blackened finger and went to find the fuse box. And here’s where Shop Boy saw an opportunity. See, Wayne’s beaten me bloody enough times at the pool table that I’m not above a little “gamesmanship.” And perhaps I will pay dearly the next time we meet in a billiards hall. But didn’t the guy deserve a beer and a game or three? Beating him, sore hand and all, was the least I could do. Even let him pay the bill. Kind of brings a tear to my eye just thinking about it.

In that spirit, how about an hour’s worth of music to dress a wound or apply a malted balm by? Most of these tunes should be available in the usual places. Great and goofy videos are from YouTube.

Welcome to the JungleRichard Cheese (Ultimate tacky lounge. You’re gonna die … I swear.)
StrawberryEverclear (Crawling with my strawberry burns … minus the heroin addiction.)
Coming HomeScorpions (Day after day, year after year.)
Hammering in My HeadGarbage (Bang, bang.)
Celebration of the Lizardthe Doors (Dude was, well, on something. But you knew that.)
CrazyGnarls Barkley (Read into it whatever you like.)
(Do the) Instant MashJoe Jackson (Stacking the shelves.)
It’s Now or NeverElvis Presley (Rearranging gave us one shot at any hidden dust bunnies …)
One ShotHenry Rollins (And we’d better not miss.)
There’s a Story in Your VoiceElvis Costello with Lucinda Williams (I could say that I was sorry, but I wouldn’t mean it much.)
I Want It That WayBackstreet Boys (Then again, let’s try it over there. Ugh. And, yes, I should be embarrassed to include this one.)
Closer to FineIndigo Girls (There you go.)
Freeze Frame J. Geils Band (The video made me think of it.)
Today Smashing Pumpkins (Ditto.)
Lightning Crashes
Live (Thought we’d lost one.)
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt CheapAC/DC (You’re hired.)
Monsta Mack Sir Mix-A-Lot (Pokin’ that 8 ball, cool.)
Upside Down Jack Johnson (Here … hold my feet while I lean down between the cabinet and the wall to pound in that final nail.)
Tooth and NailDokken (Hair band sighting.)
Voice of ChunkLounge Lizards (Why not?)
Better Place to Be — Harry Chapin (Mama’s song.)

Letterpress List No. 32: Brass Ones

April 22, 2008

One way or another, the stinking press was coming out.

So … what way hadn’t we tried yet? Did Shop Boy say “we.” I mean “they.” As in: When a guy in a forklift being lowered slowly by a winch from the tilted flatbed of a huge truck tells you it might be a good idea to stand back, “we” are gone.

And soon enough, the flatbed truck was loaded, the Vandercook No. 4 proof press having grudgingly surrendered its place in a dark, dirty corner of the doomed building to John, Frank and Don, the rigging crew from North American Millwright. (We’re getting to know these guys a little too well.)

When it was done, Mary and Shop Boy decided to look around the old shop once again. We’d taken the filthy No. 4, two lumbering turtles (mammoth metal tables on wheels), a totally old school tabletop Vandercook No. 01, assorted tools and measuring implements … and Shop Boy’d even found a stash of Challenge Hi Speed Quoins (cha-ching!) — the cleanest things in the shop. Even an old red tabletop vise would soon be cluttering up Typecast Press, waiting with countless job trays and letterpress ephemera for you-know-who and another dose of elbow grease.

Still, it wasn’t what we got but what we had to leave behind that was toughest on Shop Boy. The Intertype machines, the Ludlow, more tray cases, reams of newsprint too large or damaged to take, a big lead cutter, a smooth-operating C&P, an old Miehle, a pile of nasty, nasty rollers … oh, wait. You must be thinking, “Geez, you were just moaning about having to clean all this junk a week ago.” True.

But there’s something weird about going through a dead man’s printshop, especially finding printed evidence of his passion — a couple of salvageable issues of The Scandinavian Scribe, a little newspaper he put together — or even his life’s work (rotting in a filing cabinet were his notes and, chapter by chapter, the original copy of his book on Norwegian philatelic history or something).

It was sad. And it made Shop Boy wonder what Typecast Press will look like to the next printers who come along when we’re long dead. Will they appreciate our flair for arranging so many oddball machines into a cohesive — and usable — space? Will they thrill at finding a store of our printed materials, noting our creativity and Mary’s exacting standards for straightness and an even impression? Will they notice the care we took with the various papers, dies and press rollers? Will they smile at our decorating skills and giggle at the girlie calendar, with blue die-cut hearts stuck anywhere a model’s image seemed a bit too, well, blue?

Or will they do something like carelessly pull out a tray full of flawlessly arranged typeface matrices (they tell hot-lead Intertype machines which letters and characters to create) and “pie” the contents into the dirt of the demolition site? Sigh. Think of the old cartoon gag where the little dog grabs the tiniest bone from a brontosaurus skeleton at the Natural History Museum and the whole irreplaceable thing falls to dust.

Shop Boy, mortified, began dejectedly gathering the scattered matrices from the dirt and dropping them into the wheelbarrow we were using for trash. (Anything we didn’t take was going to end up in the scrapyard or the dumpster.) Then I set about more carefully securing and setting aside trays of matrices for additional typefaces just in case a last-minute hero arrived looking to save such things.

This was when Shop Boy noticed the “You idiot!” look on the face of the wrecker, one of two dudes sent by the contractor to tear the long-stuck bay doors off the structure so the presses would come out. He was standing over the wheelbarrow, shaking his head. “That’s pure brass, man,” he said. “You’re throwing away pure brass. That’s not just metal, it’s pure brass. You can’t throw away pure brass.” He was right, but he didn’t have to keep saying it. I felt lousy enough … and he was drawing a crowd.

Soon, five people were standing over the wheelbarrow shaking their heads. What kind of dummy would throw away pure brass?

Great. Shop Boy wandered off to find a bucket. And the fact that I didn’t put it over my head and run away to cry somewhere showed, in my opinion, great restraint. It could also have been all the mouse poop I’d shaken out of the thing, but whatever.

As the dude filled the bucket with pure brass, Shop Boy went looking for Mary. She was lugging a rusty, cast iron trough used to mold molten lead into “pigs” — hardened chunks that refreshed the typecasting machine’s lead pot as lines of type were made. “We need this,” she said giddily, apparently oblivious to EPA standards. “Oh, and let’s go upstairs and grab the foil stamper.”

What the heck is a foil stamper? I still have no idea, but it’s a heavy little bugger with two power cords.

“And should we take these?” Mary asked, motioning toward a stack of what looked like wooden boxes that had been strapped together for all these years.

“Sure, why not?” answered Shop Boy. Mary had turned crazy boxes into all kinds of cool receptacles at the studio.

Well, we’d learn back in Baltimore that they were not boxes but drawers that held type matrices for the Ludlow, Mary thinks. There are seven rows in each drawer, tilted sort of like a Scrabble letter holder. And of course, the first word of this particular game would be M-I-L-D-E-W. Triple word score!* Oh, the smell.

Next would come the words trisodium, phosphate, bleach, water, sun, goggles, gloves, smock and mask. All in all, it took Shop Boy about four hours to “play.”

History, and perhaps some future Shop Boy picking through the rubble, will judge who won.

Letterpress List No. 32

How about an hour’s worth of music … that you can repeat three times while slogging through traffic from Arlington, Va., to Baltimore. Dang! The North American Millwright trucks went one way, we went another and everyone arrived at Typecast Press more than two and a half hours later.

(By the way, Shop Boy’s not sure how you folks do this D.C. nuttiness every day — I’ve made it a point never to learn the way to work by car. All I know is that it’s south. Don’t get me wrong: Shop Boy commuted by car for two years from Brooklyn to the middle of Long Island, 45 minutes on a good day and four hours or more on a bad one. I’d leave at 1 p.m. to get to work by 5 p.m. Honest. You had to. But at least you felt like most New York drivers had a clue. Here? People!)

Most of these songs should be available in the usual places. Great and goofy videos are from YouTube.

Work SongHerb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass (The video clinches it.)
American PieDon McLean (What was the deal?)
Long Line of CarsCake (Keep repeating, D.C. drivers: It’s all because of me.)
RosesOutkast (Just playing.)
Rust in PeaceMegadeth (Power chords.)
Take on MeA-Ha (From Norway. ;-) )
WordsMissing Persons (What are shirts for?)
Left Behind Slipknot ( … and not happy about it.)
Brass in Pocketthe Pretenders (Made me notice.)
Feel the Pain Dinosaur Jr. (Is it up to me?)
Truckin’ the Grateful Dead (Together, more or less in line.)
Lead BalloonLiam Finn (I blame myself … and so do you.)
My Poor Brain Foo Fighters (Duh …)
Long Way HomeTom Waits (Norah Jones does it, too, but Mary can’t stand her. And she really hates this slightly different Supertramp song. Enjoy!)
My FaultEminem (Crazy.)
Get the Funk Out Ma Face Brothers Johnson (History finds it rather funky indeed.)
Die, Alrightthe Hives (But not right now.)

*NOTE: Never play Mary in Scrabble. Take Shop Boy’s word for it: You’ll hear the phrase “triple word score” more often than you can stand. (And the end zone dances … ugh!)

Loving It

April 17, 2008

When Shop Boy grows up, he wants to be Warren Werbitt.

Not because Werbitt’s the president of Pazazz Printing and thus, presumably, makes a good living.

Not because he works in Montreal, Quebec, an extremely cool place. (Maybe Shop Boy’s biased by nature.)

Not even because of his totally amazing, wascally name (was his dad Elmer “Fudd” Werbitt?). Though that’s a close call.

Nope. This is why.

Sigh. In another life, it could have been Shop Boy’s video debut. Just saying.

Well, Mary and Shop Boy are off on another adventure this week, taking in more cast-off cast iron, and we hope the spirit of Warren Werbitt will be with us. If this is what it takes to prove Shop Boy’s love for printing (despite his, um, occasional bellyaching), well, off we go.

Shop Boy’ll tell you all about how it turns out (but you knew that already) as soon as his head stops spinning and he gets some sleep. I’ll leave you with this profane rant from another Werbittian talent, Denis Leary, about, appropriately enough … coffee.

Want more? Here’s a great old clip of Leary addressing the issue of one, ahem, Cindy Crawford … and her classic, awesome response.

Letterpress List No. 31: Ink-Stained

April 15, 2008

“Quality Is Not an Option.”

This was the slogan, in large plastic letters, for a crummy little service station that Mary and Shop Boy often passed on the way to the printshop in Baltimore. Each time, we’d giggle. The station’s gone now — not a real big surprise there. But we still chortle over a statement that must have seemed so right at the time, but was so, so wrong. We’re word people by trade and love to have a laugh at the expense of others’ bloopers.

Helps draw attention away from our own mistakes, you know?

See, we met at a newspaper, where a grammatical goof like that would inspire a raft of good-natured — and not-so-good-natured — ribbing. The pace was pretty frenetic, and it happened. When Bob Rogers, our copy desk chief at the time, would spot an inadvertently tortured turn of phrase in our work, he’d guffaw, then bellow out: “St. Angelo! Let me explain something about the English language that you apparently missed.” Then Shop Boy-to-be would have to get up and glumly pass all of my snickering deskmates on the way to Bob’s desk, where he’d fill me in. I’d return the favor when it was their turn to walk the walk.

You learned to read and write carefully as a means of self-preservation.

But sometimes weird things got past even Bob, and that’s where the newspaper’s old printers — who were now simply cut-and-paste crews — chimed in. Ooh. You want to catch an earful? Want your cheeks to flush with embarrassment? Let your mistake be loudly caught by one of these guys. But they were sharp, it helped the newspaper and we understood that some of the testiness arose from their fall as tradesmen.

See, in the old days, printers were respected — and well-compensated — craftsmen who’d spent years honing their skills, for whom fixing a typo wasn’t a one-keystroke affair but a work of art. Now the rug had been pulled out from under them by these kids and their computers. They were on their way out the door, and they were determined not to go quietly but by proudly defending their craft — and punctuation, by god — until the end.

Now, Shop Boy’s no doubt made a few gaffes in this space that would make a gas station attendant blow soda out of his nose. But we won’t dwell on that.

We’re here to remember a group of guys — mostly — who invented and helped implement much of what is modern letterpress printing. Leading on a computer program? Once made of lead. Kerning? It sometimes involved reshaping lead letters by hand to make spacing between them more uniform. Shop Boy could feel that craftsmanship even in a Virginia printshop overrun by rodents and turned into a jumble by the passing years. But it was more than that.

These guys were, in a way, the keepers of the English language. In the end, that was all that many of them were allowed to offer. Lord knows, some of us kids needed the help.

Oh, some of them are still out there somewhere, printing away, which is why Shop Boy cringes whenever Mary tells people about my great skill at setting lead type. You know, pulling the old lead letters from the job case, arranging them with the proper spacing, etc., then tying off the form with string so that it can be carried around without spilling — or pie-ing.

Can I do it? Sure. But for Shop Boy, it’s still a tentative proposition. So I avoid using it for important jobs. This weekend, for instance, Mary had a brainstorm about how to use old, lead monogram initials for part of a design on a close friend’s personal notecard. I came up with 1,000 reasons why we shouldn’t do it the old way.

“Oh, come on, Shop Boy,” Mary insisted. “Do it.”

And 30 minutes after my whining subsided, the hand-set monogram was locked firmly into the chase and on the press. Now, believe me, Shop Boy’s efforts were nothing to write home about (real printers are scoffing at the notion that setting a simple monogram took a half-hour, and I got the initials reversed a few times). But, OK, it was a fun little reminder of why the old way was once so greatly valued.

The cards were beautiful, the cotton paper bearing witness to Mary’s wise choice in buying the old monogram set. The letters are in great shape.

She patted Shop Boy on the head, then immediately one-upped me by adding a couple of options — line rules to really make the card look finished. Took her three minutes. Quality stuff.


Letterpress List No. 31

How about an hour of music to diagram sentences or set type by? Most of these tunes should be available in the usual places. Great and goofy video links are to YouTube.

Portrait (He Knew)Kansas (“More than me or you” … you or I?)
A Gallon of Gas the Kinks (Can’t be purchased anywhere for any amount of cash.)
American IdiotGreen Day (Quality either.)
Skills to Pay the Bills Beastie Boys (Money-making.)
Melt With You Modern English (Before fully digital newspapering.)
Sunday Papers Joe Jackson (Printers good; editors bad.)
Quality Control Jurassic 5 (Good job.)
The JokerSteve Miller Band (Ha-ha-ha.)
DumbNirvana (In the end, yes.)
SignsFive Man Electrical Band (Imagine that … me working for you.)
TributeTenacious D (They pied the type and lost the prize.)
RingoLorne Greene (“Under his heart was an ounce of lead.” Been there. Shop Boy remembers hearing this first on an old transistor radio and thinking … cool.)
Wrong WaySublime (Very wrong. But it feels right somehow.)
Tentative System of a Down (Channeling Shop Boy’s inner fears.)
Sink or Swimthe Waifs (Dive right in.)
Say What You Say
Eminem (A little trip down Memory Lane with Dr. Dre.)
ThinkAretha Franklin (And respect those who came before.)
Back in the DayBlues Traveler (There was a time …)

Letterpress List No. 30: In Waves

April 9, 2008

Only Mary can take a mini-vacation to the beach and come home with a printing press … or three.

What’d the stuff do, wash ashore? Did her magnetic personality pull it away from some mermaid printing company? Is it pirate booty exposed by a storm? Did she find a bottle on the beach, set the genie free and get a wish granted? And if so, didn’t she ever hear of wishing to get money instead of wishing to, ahem, shell it out?


OK, settle down, Shop Boy. Breathe.

Dang! This was the bullet I thought we’d dodged a week ago when a letterpress dealer outbid us for the contents of a crazy old letterpress studio in a Washington, D.C., suburb, a building that needed to be demolished, pronto.

We’d been to see it. No one else had in about 15 years, since the previous owner died. His neighbors apparently hated him for building the two-story, cement-block structure (you could sort of see why) and the new owner is taking it down. The electricity has been shut off for some time, meaning it’s pitch black inside even during the day. Well, we grabbed as many flashlights as we could find — including Shop Boy’s geeky helmet light (no cameras, folks) — and went to look around.

There was a Miehle vertical older than the one we already have. No! There were two old hot-lead Intertypes. No and No! There were trays of really big, really heavy type. No! Old dies featuring designs from a book on Norwegian postal history or something. No!

Shop Boy was putting his foot down so much it was like an Irish jig.

Then there was the No. 4 in the corner, covered in mouse poop, its lowered rollers (ugh) having melted onto the steel cylinder that spreads the ink; the form in its bed glued in place by … I don’t even want to think about it; its hinges corroded; and its metal cabinet doors bent when it was apparently moved carelessly with a forklift.*

HOLY CRAP GRAIL: Typecast’s “new” Vandercook No. 4

For Mary, needless to say, it was love at first sight. And so she was very disappointed to learn on the ride home to Baltimore about missing out.

Not Shop Boy, who was relieved not to have to deal with salvaging the machines we thought worth taking: a Vandercook No. 01 tabletop press; the Vandercook No. 4 (with automatic inking — Shop Boy’s always whining about hand-cranking the ink roller on our No. 3); a rolling metal tray case; two turtles (cleverly retrofitted to hold shelves and spare rollers in the space beneath the steel top); and a bunch of old newsprint. Oh, we also liked the two C&Ps and the Ludlow (mostly used to print larger type like headlines), but had talked sense into ourselves.

Well, a few days had passed when Shop Boy’s phone rang at work. Mary was calling from the beach across the dunes from sister Melissa’s Massachusetts home. “We got the stuff. The dealer backed out!” Shop Boy was silent, stunned. “Hey, can you hear the sea?”

To Shop Boy, it sounded like a lucky break going down the drain.

*(If you are reading this and have bought or are planning to relocate a Vandercook press, DO NOT simply stick a forklift or a pallet jack under the metal cabinet and lift the machine. The base is made of a thinner steel than the top and will buckle if you don’t distribute the weight correctly. Trust Shop Boy on this one.)


Letterpress List No. 30

Here’s about an hour’s worth of music to disinfect by, or to simply let wash over you. Most tunes should be available in the usual places. Video links are to YouTube.

Mermaid Avenue the Klezmatics (Sweet, quirky old Woody Guthrie tune.)
DigMudvayne (Bury me.)
Genie in a BottleChristina Aguilera (Many a young man’s first wish.)
Money Ain’t a ThangJay-Z and Jermaine Dupri (Spending hundreds since they had small faces.)
FlashlightParliament Funkadelic (A head lamp distorts things. It fools you into thinking, for instance, that your head is clear of that beam. Ouch.)
Rainbow in the DarkRonnie James Dio (If Shop Boy plays it loud enough, it might melt the gunk.)
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea George Harrison (Hmm.)
I Got My Mind Made UpInstant Funk (Say whaaaaat?)
Never Is EnoughBarenaked Ladies (Never want to do that stuff.)
AlbatrossCorrosion of Conformity (Shop Boy’s ‘tross to bear.)
We’ve Got EverythingModest Mouse (And it’s all in need of a good cleaning.)
I Think I Smell a Rat White Stripes (OK, mice and rats can’t coexist. You’re so literal. Geez.)
What You Need INXS (These, them and those.)
Going UnderEvanescence (Gurgle, gurgle …)
My Name Is MudPrimus (I’ll make ’em shine.)
Help! — the Beatles (I do appreciate you being ’round, but please, please.)
Breathe (2 AM) Anna Nalick (Out with the bad, in with the good.)
Walking on Sunshine
Katrina and the Waves (Ah, that’s better.)

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.)

Letterpress List No. 21: Seeing Red

February 6, 2008

“It was quite … Soviet.”

With those words, Professor David Snodgrass sent Shop Boy’s chances at a broadcast journalism career crashing down harder than the Berlin Wall.

There Shop Boy had been, prepping for a mock newscast, explaining for shy University of Rhode Island classmates in his best fake French accent that you had to “make love to the camera, and the camera will love you back.”

Then the red light went on.

And there was no love.

Only some stiff talking head droning on about what was clearly the most dire news, like the university had just gotten millions for beer research and needed male volunteers (ha-ha!). Or we’d all been awarded straight A’s and were told to take the rest of the semester off (hee-hee!). Oooooh. Just mortifying. Thus, the Snodgrass Assessment of my on-air presence. The camera and Shop Boy have engaged in a cold war ever since.

Imagine, then, how Shop Boy took the news that a film crew was interested in capturing the goings-on at Typecast Press, part of a series on locals doing interesting — or, OK, weird — things.

They say any exposure is good exposure for your business and Shop Boy tends to agree: Any camera time for Mary is great news for us. Shop Boy on air? Not so much.

So I warned the crew not to expect much from my end. Certainly none of us could have expected what came next.

A light went on.

Now, we’re told that the video won’t be finished for about a month. (Shop Boy’ll let you know.) But if what Mary says is true, Shop Boy might be up for Ham of the Year. Actually, if what she says is true, Shop Boy might have to change his name or leave town.

After about four hours of filming, it’s hard to remember everything we discussed. We talked about us, about the shop, the machines and what’s special about the letterpress process. Shop Boy even spoke — all right, I blabbed semi-coherently — about this blog. It just went on and on and on.

Well, I guess we could say, in a grand understatement, that Shop Boy has done his part to foster detente with the camera. Now it’s the cold-eyed monster’s turn.

Potential highlight: Mary giving the audience a charm-school version of the spit-and-tissue-paper make-ready trick. Fantastic. She’s so cool.

Potential blooper (among many): Shop Boy explains the intricate workings of a Vandercook proof press.

Shop Boy: “You roll the cylinder back, put the paper against the guide to keep it straight. Then these thingies pop up to grab the paper.”

Mary: “Those are called grippers, Shop Boy.”

Gulp. Stayed tuned, folks.

Shop Boy did not sing on camera, at least not that I recall. (Oh, god!) But here’s about an hour’s worth of tunes that might have been appropriate had Shop Boy felt a song coming on. (Pray with me, people.) Most of these should be available in the usual places. Goofy or great videos are from YouTube. By the way, this is Shop Boy’s 50th posting. Missed any? Didn’t think so. Thanks for reading.

Skateaway Dire Straits (Making movies on location. Don’t know what it means.)
A Little Less Conversation — Elvis Presley (Ahem.)
Bark at the MoonOzzy Osbourne (John Michael Osbourne, you come in this house right now!)
Every Day I Write the Book – Elvis Costello (Shop Boy does the, heh-heh, dramatic reading.)
Red Light SpecialTLC (Loved by the camera.)
Girls on Film Duran Duran (For the sane half of Typecast Press.)
Cake (Naughtily paraphrasing Archie Bunker’s “Stifle yourself.”)
3 Small WordsJosie and the Pussycats (Three more small words from Archie Bunker: “Shut Up, You!”)
More Than WordsExtreme (Talking pretty.)
CelebrityBarenaked Ladies (A hero … like Phil Esposito or the Kennedys.)
All the Young DudesMott the Hoople (“Television man is crazy.” Says Shop Boy’s “a natural.”)
Lost in Hollywood System of a Down (Fame’s sharper edge. System of a Down’s softer side.)
Desperate But Not SeriousAdam Ant (The media: friend or foe?)
Talk of the Town the Pretenders (Maybe tomorrow. Maybe … in about a month.)
Voices Carry
Til Tuesday (Oops, my microphone isn’t still on, is it?)
Back in the USSRthe Beatles (This one’s for you, Dave Snodgrass, wherever your snarkiness has taken you.)