Impressions of a Shop Boy

lost in the land of letterpress

Cross Words

March 29th, 2010

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

This time took the cake:

Scrabble.

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

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

“Badly done, Shop Boy. Badly done …”

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

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

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

Well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Letterpress List No. 82: Rollin' Again

March 23rd, 2010

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

Namely …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It would kind of explain the letterpress thing.

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

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

Yep, that clinches it: Stockholm syndrome.

Letterpress List No. 82

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

System Outage

March 18th, 2010

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

Still.

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

(That sound you hear is Mary cheering.)

Again, asking for it …

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

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

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

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

What Goes Around

March 9th, 2010

After a good vacuuming and a bit of ancient nail and screw repair, Shop Boy eased the last heavy wooden tray drawer into the top rack of the mighty oak cabinet. Just like that, one more piece of old-time printing had officially come full circle.

Mary and Shop Boy? We’d already done that earlier in the day. Turnpike pikers, we’d naturally headed in the wrong direction on 695, Baltimore’s beltway. We’d been to the middle of nowhere out southwest of the city. Having picked up a heavy load, we planned to come back via the same fairly leisurely route of MD-97 to I-70 to I-695 to I-83 south. I-95 into the city is just so bouncy, crammed and rough, and a regular exit is now closed for … something or other. Who knows why? Everything’s old and wrecked in Baltimore.

About 45 minutes into the return trip, Shop Boy kind of sensed something was a bit off. I didn’t remember this part on the way out. But what do I know? I’m not the directions guy, and the truck was handling great, traffic wasn’t bad, my fellow drivers were being courteous enough, the load was solid, and …

“Where are we, Shop Boy?” Mary asked at last.

“Not sure … we passed Linthicum a little while back.”

Well, you should have seen the look she gave me.

Humph! Thankfully, in mentally backtracking, we quickly realized that the error — taking the long way around the beltway and adding miles and miles to the journey — had been a group effort. Each of us quickly apologized for not paying attention. Then we backtracked for real. We could still save a little time if we zigged, zagged and connected up with I-95. And what do you know — it wasn’t all that bad as I-95 goes.

Which, for us, was quite a switch. We don’t drive much on the highway. Hey, we were freeway commuters from Brooklyn to the Middle of Long Island for a couple of years. We’ve just sort of had enough of that, you know? And in Baltimore, we don’t need to, mostly. Hence Mary’s theory that the highway misses us and decides that when it does sees us, we ought to hang around a spell. I mean, does anybody else hit a traffic snarl at least one leg of every single road trip and commute?

Which is essentially why we stick with the train and tooling around broken but somehow lovable Baltimore. That is, unless Mary’s found another crazy press or old-and-wrecked must-have printshop thingy “conveniently located” in “nearby” Philly or whatever.

She had, and so we did … eventually get back to Baltimore with a huge cabinet in the back end of Shop Boy’s beloved little pickup.

The cabinet, which once would have supported an imposing stone or similar printshop work table, had ended up in a super scrounge-salvage place called Second Chance hard by Baltimore’s Pigtown neighborhood. (Honest.) There, it was spotted by a carpenter who admired the old workmanship enough that he got the idea of turning it into a funky kitchen island in his new home. Well, that was cool before the kids came. Then, the romance of the lead residue, splinters and doors and drawers that could trap little people quickly faded. So the cabinet — and the spanking new top he’d built — were on craigslist for a song. Mary’s pal Stacey Mink saw it, and knowing Mary’s penchant for acquiring weird stuff — and Shop Boy’s penchant for reacting poorly to same — sent a link with the message, “I hesitate to send this to you …”

Third chance, anyone? Oh, boy.

Truth is, the cabinet looked pretty boffo in the craigslist ad for it.

And even Shop Boy can feel good doing stuff like this, taking repurposed printing equipment and returning it to the wild of letterpress. Or bringing an old press back into useful service. Or finding old bits of printshop ephemera like a funky die-cutting block or old advertisement for a once famous brand to decorate our place or get put to back work. There’s somebody’s soul in everything you touch.

See, just the day before, in some other far-flung part of Maryland, we’d stood respectfully in the side wing of an old, three-generation printshop, helping to preside over the end of an era. Grandson David had decided to jettison anything just taking up space in favor of adding actual revenue-producing stuff. The old cabinets, turtles, dies and rules served him no useful purpose anymore. But he didn’t want it all to end up in the trash.

When in doubt, call Typecast.

Actually, Kyle from MICA had tipped us off to the stuff, having taken his fill for the burgeoning Corcoran letterpress program and a bit for himself.

Well, we’re as excited as anyone to get cheap or free old stuff, but this kind of operation makes you stop and think. I mean, the guy’s standing there as you pick through his family’s stuff, finding some of it indeed worthless. Ouch.

Mary’s great about insisting that whatever assembled diggers and movers show respect for what has come before us. You’re talking, in this case, about a business that has fed three generations. So respect means chatting up the proprietor, letting him or her know what respect we have for the craft and that the stuff is going to a good home. And it means being fair on pricing, by the way. You going to cheat a guy struggling to keep a printshop alive?

Good. I didn’t think so.

Besides, respect always, always, always pays off in some way. You meet an interesting guy, say. You show appreciation for his life’s work. Later, this guy tells that guy what you’re up to, and pretty soon you’ve got a line on more awesome stuff.

Or even better, you get the most valuable thing in the whole printshop.

David, for instance, has two Heidelberg windmills. Typecast Press has one, a beauty, but it’s been giving Mary fits in a couple of very specific areas that the manual doesn’t address. Real thick coaster stock makes it lose its mind, for instance. Mary asked David what he thought the problem was.

“C’mon, I’ll show you,” David said.

Ka-ching!

Games Over

February 23rd, 2010

With all eyes on Vancouver, it might have been easy to overlook an equally significant development in Baltimore:  the Typecast Press 2010 Sick-of-Winter Games.

There were thrills and, oh, yeah, there were spills. Let’s get right to the winners and losers. Starting with everyone’s favorite winter printshop event:

Mary — Gold medal (Scissors, X-acto, Press Wash Division)

Shop Boy — Disqualified for using too much tape, sloppily applied, which of course got gunked up with dried ink, peeled up, became type high and worsened the problem.

Mary — Bronze (Sure, it was a Olympian effort, but one judge — OK, it was me — gave her exceptionally low marks for failing to execute a compulsory maneuver: leaving well enough alone. It’s Shop Boy’s signature move, and one he’s performed flawlessly for years, which had made him the heavy favorite in the eyes of Las Vegas oddsmakers and the vast majority of gamblers on the eve of the Games.)

Shop Boy — Disqualified when he runs screaming from the room (in the opposite direction of Mary and Las Vegas).

Mary: Gold. In what can only be described as an upset, Mary unveils the House of Cards trick, a dazzling display of derring do that  produces a rickety stack of sticks that somehow holds. Fellow Baltimorean and event favorite Otto Mergenthaler drops dead at the sight, leaving Mary alone at the finish.

Shop Boy: Disqualified (whimpering in the corner).

Mary: Gold. As the brains of the operation, she takes a more responsible approach, slowly building the business into a success, keeping Shop Boy out of the public eye by never letting him leave the shop.

Shop Boy: Disqualified for lack of blogging as he distractedly, and hopelessly, tries to prepare for the final event of the 2010 Typecast Press Sick-of-Winter Games:

Mary: Gold. She wins in a walk when Shop Boy no longer can.

Shop Boy: Disqualified. His Olympic dream ends with a slow-motion pan over a prone body face down  on a cot.

Starting Something

February 9th, 2010

Come on … haven’t you ever wanted to know what it feels like to work with the mega-stars of this letterpress blog of ours? I mean, real face time? Printing your own stuff on a Vandercook press in a lovely setting? Learning a little about the history of printing and a lot about the oddities of starting a business whose technology peaked, like, 50 years ago? And getting the chance to maybe observe a Shop Boy “adventure” up close?

You sure have! Am I right, or am I right?

Well, you have come to the right place.

Yes, folks, if you order right now, you can be one of eight exceptionally fortunate people to be instructed by Mary in the first-ever, inaugural and even never-been-done-before Typecast Press letterpress class.

Dun-dun-daaaaaaaaah!

I mean, think of the collector’s items you’ll take away. And the bragging rights over being the first to take the class. Wow!

Mary, who you know teaches at the mighty Maryland Institute College of Art, has got the Vandercook presses primed and ready. Shop Boy has painted, vacuumed, stood atop a tall ladder and stretched up with a duster to, gulp, clean the ceiling fans, for heaven’s sake. (I’m never, ever doing that again, FYI, so the classroom environment will never be this dust-free again. Just saying.)

We’ve even hung up art and shelves in the new space, just for you.

And all you’ve got to do is show up. Heck, we’re even throwing in lunch.

Think about that for a minute. Fill up a boring February Saturday (2/20) with the love of letterpress.

Short notice? Sure.

But it’s short notice for us, too.

Shop Boy? Oh, I’ll be there. Signing autographs, posing for photos, that kind of thing. OK, I’ll mostly be trying not to do anything too dopey with all these witnesses around.

Seriously, I’ll be helping out with a joke here, or a little encouragement there, a floor demo over there — you know me — while Mary does the hard stuff.

Really, this should be fun. We’re going to do another, different workshop in March with our bookmaking friend BethAnne Garcia — ask her for a tip on the third race at Pimlico.

Kidding. We’ll teach you how to use the Vandercooks, she’ll teach you how to turn what you’ve printed into a keepsake book. She taught us, she can teach anybody. Registration for that’s on the form I linked to above as well.

Makes a great last-minute Valentine’s Day gift, if you, um, get me.

So, deal? Thought so. See everybody there.

Cleaning House

January 22nd, 2010

“Is the shop always this clean?” asked Jim Sherraden, the man responsible for — gulp — raising the famed Hatch Show Print in Nashville, Tenn., from the ashes.

Shop Boy was so flattered. A big-time letterpress celebrity, unprodded, voicing his approval of how we’ve put the shop together. I mean, Shop Boy tries to keep the place neat for those visitors who happen by Typecast Press and so that Mary will enjoy being there. Of course, on many late nights, Shop Boy wonders if he hasn’t done too good a job of that second part. But … wow.

Sherraden was at Typecast Press for a tour — seriously — during a Baltimore letterpress looksee that Mary had helped line up as part of The Man’s visit for a speech and demo at the Maryland Institute College of Art. And he was really cool about everything,  stuff like telling Mary which sets of wood type she’d collected were the real deal, adding with a twang and a wink that, naturally, the other sets weren’t exactly worthless in the right hands. What a down-to-earth, articulate, well-mannered fellow. (Shop Boy tried to watch his own manners and, um, articulation while Jim was there, with mixed success.)

Before leaving, he agreed to sign a copy of his book for Mary, and proceeded, with a ballpoint pen, to produce a full-page work of art reminiscent of the posters Hatch Show Print is famed for. You’d probably recognize his shop’s style. If not, you should check it out.

Anyway, Shop Boy tries to keep Jim’s visit in mind while surveying the wreck that is Typecast Press these days. Between moving all of the Vandercooks to the new space and cleaning out the old space by a January 1 deadline, stuff is everywhere, entire systems torn asunder. We’ve been in many printshops where stuff’s piled on top of stuff on top of stuff, and printers limbo over and around heaps of lead and paper as they move from press to press — and great work is produced nonetheless. But that ain’t us. We’re lucky we haven’t injured ourselves tripping over things in unaccustomed places.

Mary’s bummed. She’s eager to get things back to normal. Unfortunately, things are back to normal — goodbye, holidays — for the five-days-a-week commuter half of Shop Boy. That means it might be a couple of more weeks before all this stuff has got a permanent home and we can begin to memorize where it all is again.

Worth it? Oh, my, you betcha. Mary’s dad spent his holidays in the new space, painting sections of a room that through the years has acquired a funky color palette. You know, purple paint covering the acoustic tiles that begin about 16 feet above the black-tiled floor and extending across the ceiling 20 or so feet over our heads. Mocha-colored walls in the main area. An aggressively teal, L-shaped divider at the big room’s center. A lime green office off the main area. All cool colors on their own, no doubt. But we’d have had to leave the space every time we needed to do an ink color check — despite the bank of bright spotlights we inherited. So we figured we’d tone it down just a bit.

The teal divider became white with a red trim to match curtains we’d brought along. The mocha walls got the “Wayne Mashburn special”: three separate servings of joint compound to cover up any blemishes — in a few cases, pothole-sized — and subtle paint touch-ups to the point where you’d think the whole place had gotten a fresh coat. (This was despite the comedy routine of Wayne trying to pry the plastic lid off that drum of old paint the former tenant left in a closet. Shop Boy half expected the bucket to end up on his head.) And the lime green office has been similarly patched up and is now “Vail blue” or something. Subtle and lovely.

Then Wayne set to work building us the heavy-duty paper storage shelves of our dreams. Guy’s incredible.

As for “Shop Boy’s office” — aka the lunch area — Wayne ran out of time, leaving me to my own devices. When it comes to picking paint colors, Mary will tell you that this is rarely a good development, often ending in, um, unappetizing shades of whatever. Good thing I’ve been too busy to mess with it. The super-teal accent wall stays for now.

Meanwhile, Tom Beal, Mary’s machine whisperer brother-in-law, rewired the No.4 and SP-15 Vandercooks, discovering dangerous electrical wear-and-tear in one of them. Then he singlehandedly moved each 1,200-pound-plus press into final position (yikes!) and leveled each one.

Oh, and he hung the curtains.

What? You think that’s a bit sissy after throwing around thousands of pounds of metal? You weren’t watching Tom.

There he was, atop a 10-foot ladder, leaning toward the big, old industrial window glass and, power drill in left hand and monkey wrench in the right (for leverage to help push the drill since he was in such an awkward position), coaxing mounting screws slowly into the brick on the left side of the 10-foot by 10-foot bank of windows.

That manly enough for you?

No way Shop Boy’s doing that.

Besides, I was kissing the floor as “Low Boy” (in Wayne’s parlance). He’s about 6-foot-4 and Tom’s up there somewhere, too. I’m, uh, not. Meaning I’m the guy picked to worm my way behind the Vandercooks, shimmying along the tile to tape and then paint the floor-level trim.

To be fair, Tom’s at least as nimble as Shop Boy and has never been afraid of tight spaces or a physical challenge. But like I said, he was busy at the moment: one foot on the ladder, one knee atop a wall segment, bent at the waist, head cocked, wrench now in left hand, power drill in the right hand, coercing the right-side mount into position — it was like Cirque du Soleil or something. Swear to god.

Shop Boy might be a little nuts sometimes about keeping things tidy (at least at the printshop — ;-) ). But that’s clean crazy.

So Over It

January 13th, 2010

It was always something with Raymond. Why the young Shop Boy ever believed a word that came out of that mouth remains beyond my comprehension. Yet time and again, there we’d be, Ray laughing his crazy head off as I tried to survive whatever ridiculous adventure or cruel embarrassment he’d led me into.

Take the time Ray convinced me that his parents had made extra room, and paid extra money, so that I could come along on a trip to New Hampshire. Never mind that I had a football game on the day his parents were “counting on me” to come along. Well, my coach was counting on me, too, and about threw me off the team — I’d been terrified to tell him, as he had until recently been an offensive lineman with the Green Bay Packers. Six-foot-four, maybe 280 pounds. Shop Boy never did make it out of his doghouse. Worse, he was on my newspaper route, so I’d have to see him every day. And hear him. Coach John had this dismissive, sneering, devastating toss-off line: “That’s all …”

Two little words that Shop Boy will never get out of his ears.

Nor will Shop Boy ever forget the look of surprise on the faces of Raymond’s parents as he showed up, packed for New Hampshire. Ray was an only child and wanted company for the trip. He just hadn’t told his parents that he’d made arrangements.

Mortifying, right?

Shop Boy turned to leave.

“No, no … please come with, Stee-vun,” said his mom, a large, lovely and charming Swedish woman who I ended up liking much more than I ever did Raymond. It became sort of mutual over time. She was fascinated by a little boy who was so achingly polite, so unlike her own, and would feed me crackers and lingonberry jam when Ray wasn’t watching. Her accent cracked me up. “Damn it, Raymond!” came out something like “Yemen, Ray-mown!”

If only I’d listened to her instead of Ray, a leap-before-you-look kind of kid. The opposite of little Shop Boy, which I guess makes sense. Shop Boy was the good kid, eager to please, who wished to be less afraid to try things.

It might also explain how I ended up in the cockpit of a Fokker triplane — the Red Baron’s ride — buzzing granite cliffs and doing stalls, dives, barrell rolls and loop-the-loops over Peterboro, N.H., if geographic memory serves. Ray had told the stunt pilot (!) on the sly that it was my first time flying, and the dude was thus out to make a memory for me. Mission accomplished. I was ill for a week.

And yet, Shop Boy relishes telling the tale.  Though I’d never want to go through it again, it’s sort of cool to have it in my past (so long as it stays there — ooh, shivers up my spine to this day).

I promised myself I would feel the same — in time — about the Squidfire Holiday Art Mart. This was to be the first official foray by Typecast Press into the land of the arts and crafts fair. And to say the prep was going poorly … well, let’s just say that at 3 a.m. on the morning of the big event, Shop Boy threatened to gnaw his own leg off to escape Mary’s clutches.

Hey, it broke the tension.

See, we still had packaging ideas to talk through as we gathered all the stuff that we’d need for the show. And Shop Boy’s brain was shutting down. Even Andy Snair, illustrator friend of Typecast Press and the genius behind the clever Type Faces series of letters we were to launch that day, had called it a night after a heroic two-day effort on the Vandercook SP-15. I’m telling you, without Andy … no Type Faces at the fair. Mary was at max capacity, and Shop Boy was toast.

That’s when I made my pledge to keep pushing, to be positive, to be strong, to be professional, to be friendly, even at 5 a.m., with load-in set for 8:30 at an arena across town …

And to be ready to make Mary pay, and pay, and pay like Raymond never did. How she talked me into this …

The fair? Oh, it went pretty great for first-timers. We sold a bunch of Andy’s letters, a few of Shop Boy’s signature coasters, some really cool letterpressed wine bags that we came up with, sachets by the score. We met a bunch of people, many of whom got to make their own coaster on the little Kelsey we’d — ugh! — brought along.

True story: It was a long walk to the car from the floor of Baltimore’s Du Burns Arena. And even a little Kelsey 5X8 gets real heavy if you carry it far enough. So Shop Boy had a plan: Carry one of the display cabinets halfway there, then do the same with the Kelsey, setting it atop the cabinet as a resting point.

If only I had shared the plan with Andy.

Shop Boy boosted the Kelsey, hands wrapped carefully around the legs so as not to damage any of the more sensitive parts of the little jewel of a press, and made my way from the arena floor to the long set of stairs to the main concourse. So far, so good.

Of course, a little girl, maybe 3 years old — and unattended — made her way directly into my path at the stairs’ base and began her agonizing … one step, stop, look around … next step, stop, look around … way up the stairs. There was nowhere to set down the press, and no way Shop Boy was going to risk hurting this little girl, so I stayed back, praying that some adult would come whisk her away so I could dash the rest of the way to the rest stop.

Nope.

Finally she turned away at the top of the stairs and Shop Boy made a break for it, only to spot Andy — he truly was an amazing help, folks — carting away the cabinet where I was to set the Kelsey.

“Andy!” I called. “ANDY!”

Too far away.

Panicked, Shop Boy looked around. There was a flimsy plastic chair. There were a bunch of bags filled with paper goods. Walls of glassed-in shelves with all manner of indoor soccer trophies and such. And zero flat surfaces that would hold any weight.

Somewhere, Raymond had to be laughing.

Shop Boy might have been, too, if it were someone else’s knees buckling, someone else’s shoulders shaking. There was only one choice. Get the thing, somehow, through two sets of glass doors and outside, where Mary and Andy might spot me and run to help.

The cold air helped clear Shop Boy’s head a bit, and I spotted the section of wall with a flat top down two short flights of wide cement steps. Andy and Mary had their hands full and their backs turned, so …

I set the Kelsey down — gently — with the kind of “uuh-uhh-hhhhnnnnnnnnnnnnnn-UH!” that could be heard for blocks.

“Oh my god. Did you carry that all the way?” Mary asked.

“That wasn’t the plan,” I said, my fast breaths sending shots of steam into the chill.

When Shop Boy filled them in — “Andy! ANDY!” — Andy quickly apologized, then started laughing. Mary joined him. What could I do? No harm to small children or small presses. And Shop Boy was more or less intact.

I laughed till I cried.

Today, a month down the road, Shop Boy’s glad we took part in the Squidfire sale, hoping against hope, of course, that we’d do it a little differently next time.

It gave us Andy’s Type Faces, so long on the drawing board, convinced us we could, with proper planning, bring the Kelsey along on such outings so people can try their hand at letterpress, and provided the confidence for us to launch our own line of fun products with their own Andy-drawn logo and everything. More on that later.

And, yemen, it certainly gave us a funny story to take home, without the week of stomach distress.

36/24/36 … 24/7/365

January 6th, 2010

It’s hard enough to remember what day it is sometimes. Now Shop Boy really has a challenge on his hands: How will I ever remember what month it is without the Fantasy Builders hotties reminding me from the wall calendar in the main room of Typecast Press?

See, for the past couple of years, Mary and Shop Boy have continued a joke started when a former roommate suggested that every printshop must have a girlie calendar. The local hardware store supplies the calendars for free, then Mary goes through month by month to helpfully explain to Shop Boy where nature has been altered by science or enhanced by computer, pasting a confetti of paper hearts and stars over the bits that go a bit too far over the line — the bra line, usually. Until this year.

There probably aren’t quite enough paper stars in the world to shield impressionable eyes from this year’s batch of “construction workers.” Yes, it’s tradition to have the calendar. And, yes, construction workers have traditionally shown a bit of “butt crack” every now and again. But, good golly.

Shop Boy knew the joke was over before we’d even got to springtime.

We’ve got young female interns this semester. And a few guests in the past year have looked at us kind of funny over the whole thing. Besides, Shop Boy likes being thought of in a certain way by women. Not that way.

It’s kind of too late to print our own shop calendar. So it’ll probably end up being kitties instead of “kittens” this time around.

Shop Boy will try to refrain from pointing out everywhere that the “perfect” little furballs have been Photoshopped.

Job Description

December 30th, 2009

He was known as the Printer’s Devil, the printshop apprentice who was always getting into something and making a mess. Always trying to help but often doing something far closer to the opposite.

This Shop Boy learned one day from Donna Murphy, printer sister of one Vince I. Pullara III — or “VIP” to Mary. In addition to a wave of offset jobs for various clients, their Inter-City Press graciously makes negatives for Typecast Press. And Mary’s green with envy over the programmable paper cutter Vince has bailed us out with on several occasions. Plus, they’re really cool people … and they always have a plate of candy out. Shop Boy will notice candy wrappers in Mary’s car and know to ask, “How are Vince and Donna?”

Anyhow, I was dispatched by Mary to pick up some negatives from Inter-City one day, and was greeted at the entrance by Donna. She handed me the rolled-up film, looked at me kind of funny and asked, “So, how did you get the name Shop Boy?”

I gave her the short version.

“So, you’re sort of the Printer’s Devil,” Donna said, offering me the above definition.

Hmmm.

Another guy might have been offended.

Shop Boy’s thinking maybe I should change the name of this blog.