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50th: Otto Boutin’s Night Watch — Speak and Squeak Softly

June 2008
EDITOR’S NOTE: This fictional piece was written by the late Otto Boutin, a longtime Printing Impressions contributor who penned stories about the old “tramp” printers who traveled the country, moving from job to job in search of adventure and a better life. A poet in a printer’s apron, his monthly column was a popular mainstay in this publication for several years.

MARVIN WAS one of the most kind-hearted men I’ve ever known. When he caught a butterfly, he always let it go, believing that life in any form was extremely precious.

He was one of those lonely printers who wander across the country, living simply, becoming more and more withdrawn from society because he was having trouble with his ears. He could hear some voices, but not others; high sounds, but not low ones. Nevertheless, he was a good printer who could have held a steady job anywhere, if he had so desired.

One day he sat on a park bench in Omaha, wondering whether to hitchhike East to make some money, or go farther West, to Santa Barbara, where the swimming is wonderful in October. Still un-decided, he picked up a copy of the World-Herald, discarded by someone, and saw a want ad asking for a printer. Obeying an impulse, he went down the hill to Thirteenth Street and stopped at the door of a printing shop.

He was astonished to see such lovely pink drapes in the window. As he opened the door, his poor ears were treated to the sound of Oriental chimes that plinked do-mi-sol-do, do-sol, do-sol. He would have turned back, feeling he had stumbled into the wrong place, had it not been for the clanking of a Gordon press. A woman was running it.

Shutting off the machine, she turned to face him. Despite her masculine attire—slacks, shirt and cap—Marvin could see that she was quite a woman, all the way down. A few blonde curls crept from under her cap across her ink-stained forehead.

“You’re a printer?” she asked, hopefully. Marvin nodded. He was a good lip reader and those were beautiful lips to read.

“I’m hard of hearing,” he said. “You’ll have to speak a bit louder.”

“Oh,” she seemed disappointed. Then she continued, “My husband died, almost a year ago. And I’ve been trying to keep the business going. It’s tough.”
 

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