Rockwood | Worcester

One of the more recognizable features modern-day additions to Province House in Charlottetown are the beautiful cast “Rockwood | Worcester” alarm bells on the outside:

Rockwood | Worcester

I’ve been walking by these for years, and it was only today that I learned that the former home of the Rockwood Sprinkler Company in Worcester, Massachusetts is now home to a large art studio and gallery complex called The Sprinkler Factory.

The Big Stapler

One of the delightful aspects of visiting my colleagues at Yankee Publishing is that, as a publisher that’s nearing 80 years in business, there’s been a substantial opportunity for the company to have acquired a lot of interesting tools of the trade.

Last week, for example, I discovered that the Xerox DocuColor copier, scanner and printer in the Production department (itself interesting tool of the trade) has a booklet-making feature: from my Mac it’s very easy to say “take this PDF file and make it into a booklet,” with the resulting booklet having each page of the PDF printed on half of an 8½x11 inch piece of paper, and everything collated so that when folded in half it reads in the proper order.

Once I’d made a booklet, I needed a way to staple it, and a path of inquiry through the company led me to the Yankee Magazine editorial department, where I found exactly what I needed, a Swingline stapler with an extended arm:

Swingline Extended Stapler

The stapler does exactly what you think it should, with a very satisfying clunk on every staple. (Those metal bars running along the wall, by the way, are where pages of the next issue of Yankee get posted for everyone to review).

My company Reinvented renewed our contract with Yankee last week to take us up to 2016, a year that will be our 20th anniversary of working together. Which means there’s plenty more opportunity to discover interesting tools in Yankee’s nooks and crannies.

I Shot Your Dog

I was sitting on the front porch of the Harrisville General Store this afternoon just finishing up lunch when an old acquaintance of mine, a former Yankee copy editor who once swopped houses with us, pulled up in her Toyota Prius.

In the back of the car was a delightful-looking dog with a shiny coat, a dog that looked like a Dalmatian but wasn’t.

I asked my old acquaintance if I could pet her dog.

She said yes.

I petted her dog.

This is something that, six months ago, never would have occurred to me, but which today seemed like the most natural thing of all.

I have, it seems, become a dog person.

How did this happen?

On Skype with Ethan

Since Ethan, Oliver’s dog guide, joined our family in March, I’ve noticed a curious thing: running in parallel to regular everyday society there is, just under the surface, a secret cabal of dog lovers.

Civilians without the virtue of a dog in their lives are, I can attest from my earlier life, completely unaware of the existence of this cabal.

But once you’re in, you’re in. And I suppose now I’m in.

The presence of the cabal manifests in all sorts of interesting ways.

On our flight back from Frankfurt to Halifax, with Ethan riding in the cabin at our feet, for example, the chief flight attendant approached me, crouched and in a whisper.

“Don’t hesitate to let me know if there’s anything I can do to help you,” she said. And then added, “I’m a dog lover.”

She offered to bring water for Ethan or even, seemingly against all international decency treaties, to allow for Ethan to surreptitiously pee on the airplane should the need arise (it didn’t).

Outside of airliners, the most obvious manifestation of the dog lover crowd is on the street: walking through Charlottetown, as we do quite often, will engender five to ten dog-related questions per hour from total strangers.

“Oh, is that a labradoodle?” (no)

“Can I pet your dog?” (no)

“What a beautiful dog! I have one just like him” (that’s nice)

“Can my son pet your dog?” (no)

“What kind of dog is that?” (a poodle)

“I had a dog just like yours, but she died three weeks ago…” (pathos)

Apparently one of the laws of dog-lover-world is that unprompted conversations with strangers are acceptable if they involve dogs.

This, of course, is part of the whole point of Ethan – to act as a social ice breaker for Oliver – so it’s hard to grumble about it, even if it is question number 98 on a hot summer day when one’s interior voice feels like saying “it’s not a goddammed labradoodle, okay.”

The osmotic road into this lifestyle has been proceeding since March, with occasional bursts of realization popping up in the months since.

Earlier this week, for example, my friend Dan James (also inside the cabal) noticed a dog trapped in a hot minivan in the Cavendish Beach parking lot.

Old me would have sloughed this off as another one of life’s unfortunate events.

New me was screaming (to myself) “break the window – break the window!” and feeling a tremendous sense of panic at the very though of such a beastly act.

How this affects friendships is also interesting, for in ones life will be a combination of heretofore unrecognized dog lovers and those for whom dogs mean little, nothing, or dread.

Learning that someone is dog lover. Or secretly has a deep-seated fear of dogs. Or that they don’t seem to notice that a dog is in the room at all. Adds an interesting layer to how friends are viewed.

In the same way that you wouldn’t break up with a friend because they don’t like broccoli, it’s not that non-dog-lovers are ineligible for continued friendship.

And it’s not like learning someone is a dog lover is an immediate cause of endearment.

I’d say it’s more like learning that a friend I really like is a secret broccoli-lover makes me love them even more.

And learning that someone I dislike doesn’t like broccoli is all the more reason to detest them with renewed vigour.

For everyone else, life continues on as before.

This aspect of life isn’t unique to dogs.

Show up in a new town with a banjo on your knee and you’ll be certain to find a bed and a meal for the night as there’s certain to be a banjo-loving kin almost anywhere (just as certain as you’ll find a lot of people who won’t give a banjo player the time of day).

We experienced that on our trip to Europe last month too: several times a day we’d benefit from unexpected kindnesses and compliments from restaurant servers (“here’s a bowl of water for your dog”), campground owners (“you can let your dog run down in the back field if you like”) and simply from strangers on the street (“autism assistance dog,” we heard more than once, “what a wonderful idea!”).

In this regard Ethan is a sort of über-dog: not only is he non-threatening and very well-trained, but he’s also in service, which makes him all the more noble and loved.

I’d been telling myself, and others who I feared might look down on me if the truth was revealed, that Ethan, as a working dog, was a utilitarian aspect of our family, an aid to Oliver, and not a dog that one would develop any affection for.

That was a lie, you now know, an untruth I told myself to prevent from having to deal with the notion that I’ve become one of them, a card-carrying lover of all dogs.

I am not at the stage yet where I will accept dog calendars as Christmas gifts. But can that be too far away?

In the meantime, as we pass on the street, oh fellow cabal members, I will recognize in your wry smile and slight wink a kinship that others cannot understand.

And I will feel all the better for it.

(Post title courtesy of Fred J. Eaglesmith; watch the entire video)

A Visit to Heaven

I don’t have any photos from my visit last night to Swamp Press because, well, it would be inappropriate to take photos in heaven, wouldn’t it?

I first made the acquaintance of Ed Rayher some years ago when I went in search of some 12 point Bodoni cap K to fill out an incomplete font I’d purchased (something that later evolved into a Krisis). A year later I met him in person at the Printing Arts Fair at the Museum of Printing north of Boston. And, more recently, Ed cast me some 14 point Bodoni that I used to set my Confederation Country Cabinet pieces.

When I realized that Ed’s shop is in the village of Northfield, MA, which is only a hour’s drive from Yankee Publishing here in Dublin, NH where I’m spending the week, I resolved to pay him a visit. Which is how I ended up knocking at his shop door around supper time last night.

For the next 3 hours I got a cook’s tour of Ed’s operation, a collection of machines, tools, type that, for a typophile like me, was heartbreakingly fascinating.

Ed describes his operation as a “collection of microbusinesses,” and as the tour proceeded I learned about each. For Ed is not simply a type founder, but he’s also making new type, setting type, printing, and binding. I’m sure there are a few other things he does that I missed in the process.

So I saw the ATF pantograph that Ed uses to cut new matrices, and learned about how all of the steps in the process lead to a final cast product that is precisely type-high.

And the casting machines that Ed uses, with those matrices, to cast type, along with the Monotype keyboard he uses to encode paper tape that are fed into the casters (an arrangement of technologies that aligns type casting with the Jacquard loom).

And the Heidelberg Windmill that’s the workhorse of Ed’s print shop (and what an amazing machine it is to watch).

And the binding machine that he uses to bind signatures he’s printed together to make books.

Put all together, Ed’s shop contains the technology to take a visual conception of a new typeface, to cut mats for it, cast type from the mats, set the type, print with the type, and to bind the result into a book. All you need as raw materials are hot metal, electricity, paper, and bookbinding thread. Along with a healthy dose of creativity and a lifetime’s worth of experience spent plumbing the depths of the machines.

Ed was very generous with his time, and patiently answered question after question. As the clock neared 9:00 p.m. and with thunderstorms threatening, I accepted his gift of a catalog of his typefaces and headed off into the night back to New Hampshire.

Wow. Just wow.

Our house had the biggest patio...

Our dear friends Olle and Luisa have been staying with us for the last week – they just headed off in their sexy Fiat 500L for points farther east – and we used the occasion of their visit to hold the first bona fide party we’ve ever held at 100 Prince Street (indeed, perhaps the first party Catherine and I have ever held).

This is not to say that we’ve not held partyesque events before. There have been birthday parties. And the famed Oliver Oliver party. And even a couple of dinner parties. But this was the first summer backyard party with a guest list tipping over 40 people and the first party that included a smattering of people who we only barely know (and thus it was also a sort of social recruitment drive).

Front Door Sign for Party

You might think that holding a party with 4 hosts might be chaotic, but somehow it worked out. I was responsible for invitations and guest liaison, for signage, and for positioning the chairs and impromptu cinder block tables. Catherine and Luisa and Olle did everything else, which included preparing mountains of food (including a tasty eggplant-based fake pickled herring), concocting a crackjack rum punch and arranging meta-layout for the party’s geography.

Writing this now I realize that I essentially did nothing, and they did everything.

Which is not entirely true, as being responsible for the guest list apportioned to me the responsibility for curating the social mix.

Which you would think I would be no good at, being a recluse and all.

But, somehow, it all worked out.

People came.

They had fun.

Which is the first of the remarkable aspects of the party.

The second is that it was rollicking good fun holding a party.

Which I didn’t anticipate at all.

What I didn’t anticipate is that when the guest list reaches a certain size, the party both takes on a life of its own, and frees the host from the responsibility of managing it, at least after everyone has a drink in their hands.

Part of my reclusive tendencies extend from the panic I feel when trapped in a large social group without any clear rules and regulations: I have a very strong flight response, which I either follow, or use up all my energy trying to tamp down.

As co-host, I simply needed to redirect my energies to offering pie or mineral water or a glass of rum punch.

I felt like a butterfly, not a slug.

Which is pretty much as good as it gets, I think.

The Party Layout

As we’re likely to do it all again before another 23 years has passed, here are some notes to myself (and, perhaps, to other backyard party neophytes):

  1. I originally set off to equip the backyard with patio lanterns. Touring the shops, however, I found that the genre has degraded since the 1970s: all I could find were solar-powered proto-lanterns shaped like shot glasses. I gave up the fight secure in the knowledge that it was to be a fullish Moon on Friday. What I forgot is that the Moon doesn’t shine everywhere, and its angle of attack on Friday fell on the other side of the brick house on the corner. So as soon as night fell our backyard was shrouded in darkness. Not shrouded enough that party-goers were tripping over each other, but dark enough that it was hard to jump in on a new conversation as you weren’t entirely sure who was there (and couldn’t read their body language).  Next time I will contact Kim Mitchell directly and solve this issue.
  2. A lot of food went un-eaten. Partly, I think, because of the aforementioned shroud of darkness. But perhaps also because we didn’t make enough of an effort to encourage eating, and because the food zone (#fz2014) fell outside of the social nexus of the party. Next time: tone down the food, offer it up, and put it in the middle.
  3. Pie isn’t a party food.
  4. People will accept last-minute Twitter invitations. We had a couple of late-adds that I didn’t have a way of contacting otherwise, who I pinged on Twitter at the last minute. They came!
  5. Having a big back yard is great. Only Catherine was fully aware of this heretofore. Now I understand.
  6. Having a deck is great. See also № 5 above.
  7. Citronella candles don’t entirely eradicate mosquitos, but they sure help.
  8. Everyone was gone by midnight. It would have been nice to have glided on to a late nite phase two of the party, but the shroud of darkness and lack of social cues meant this didn’t happen. Except for Olle and I, who hung out on the deck until 2:30 talking about service-oriented architecture and polyamory.
  9. You probably have enough chairs, if you dig deep.
  10. The liquor store in Stratford sells ice. That’s very convenient.
  11. It’s nice, as a host, to receive thank-you emails after the party. In future, I will remember to send them when I am a guest.

The third remarkable aspect of the party was that a lot of the people we invited had never met, which is something that, in a Lois Weisbergian sense, was enormously satisfying. It’s easy to feel, coming later in life to Prince Edward Island, that everyone met in kindergarten. Apparently this isn’t true, and so I had the pleasure of introducing friends new and old to each other and, I hope, therein cementing new connections in the Island fabric.

For those of you left off the guest list for this round: nothing personal. I’m a newbie at social curating and starting from the assumption that I may have no friends at all, everything was a lark. Next time I’ll do better.