Front Cover

Onion Caper Continued

IN Boxwooder No. 56, I described the curious and baffling onion difficulty at the South Pacific Restaurant. The many intervening months have done little to make it easier to get a slice of onion on your hamburger in that restaurant.

I was reminded of that yesterday when without too much furor the waiter agreed that I could have a slice of onion. When he brought my plate with a neat slice of onion resting beside the hamburger, he pointed to it and said, as if it were unlikely that I could recognize it, “That’s the onion.”

During the heavy shopping preceding last Christmas, we could hardly squeeze our way into the restaurant for lunch. When a co-worker, Gracen Joiner, and I ordered our usual hamburger, the waiter said, “Ten cents for onion. You want?”

“I want onion but I’m not going to pay ten cents for it,” we each said in turn.

Just as our hamburgers arrived, the manager stopped at our table and said, “How’s everything?”

“What’s the business of charging for onion?” Gracen asked.

“It’s because we’re so busy today,” he replied.

“That’s no reason to charge for onion,” we protested.

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He tried to explain how busy the cooks were and how they had no time to slice onions, but we remained obdurate.

“OK,” he said, “I’ll get your onion.” And shortly he returned with two fine slices of onion at no extra cost.

Some weeks after that when we ordered onion for our hamburger a waiter said, “We charge twenty-five.” When we refused, he said, “fifteen?” and then “ten cents?” but finally brought the onion free when we remained adamant.

On a later occasion when a waiter demanded ten cents for a slice of onion, Gracen said, “Send the manager over here; we’ll talk to him about it.” The waiter just crossed off the charge and said no more about it.

One day when I ate there alone, I noticed that my bill was ten cents more than it should have been and complained to the cashier who called the manager over. He explained that the extra charge was for the slice of onion. I immediately went into my old argument that any restaurant in town would furnish free onion with a hamburger. “Even McDonald’s gives you free onion,” I said.

“Oh,” he said, “you old customer, you eat here years, you know we don’t give onion.” He went on in this vein for some time. The thread of the argument seemed to have escaped me. He scratched out the ten cent surcharge and said, “This time you don’t pay. From now on it’s ten cents.”

If you should conclude that this settled the matter, you don’t know the South Pacific. Now they are sometimes very firm about the extra charge but will then ignore it for a week or so.

One night my wife and I went to the South Pacific for dinner. In all the years I’d been eating there, no waiter had given the slightest sign that he had ever seen me before. But on this occasion the waiter’s welcome was most voluble.* “You were here at lunch,” he said. “I waited on you in the other room. Do you remember me?” Then to my wife he said, “He eats lunch here all the time. And he always has to have onions. Everybody in the whole place knows about it.” He giggled wildly as if it were a great scandal.

* It may be that I had, at that instant, exceeded some kind of threshold, say 1000 visits, because since about that time, the manager, the hostess, and several waiters recognize and greet me each time I enter the restaurant.

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Mr. Tai

Jack Kane, another co-worker, is one who practices the art of knowing key people everywhere so that he is constantly, in restaurants and elsewhere, the recipient of special treatment. One day when the manager of the South Pacific thought that Jack and his companion were having an over-long wait for a lunch table, he had a table brought out and set up in the aisle for Jack. Then, to the manager’s chagrin, Jack insisted that another couple was ahead of him and that the table should be given to that couple. With great patience, the manager had another table brought out and set up in the crowded aisle for Jack.

One day Jack decided it might be advantageous to learn the names of a few of the waiters although the turnover makes this a dubious proposition. He looked at his check and found in one corner the penciled inscription, “TAI.” “Is your name Tai?” he asked, pointing to the inscription.

“Oh, no,” said the inscrutable oriental, “that means ‘table number one.’ ”

Sorry Juice

The main reason we eat lunch at the South Pacific is that their hamburgers are the best we’ve ever eaten. One day Jack and my boss, Tom Quinn, undertook to find out from the manager how they made such deliciously juicy hamburgers. “We select and grind our own meat,” said the manager.

“But how do you get them so juicy?”

“Oh, that’s sorry juice,” said the manager.

After many repetitions it was decided that the manager meant “celery juice” and subsequent tasting proved that to be correct. Once you know it’s there, it is quite recognizable. No one has yet found a source for buying celery juice. Tom has been relentlessly searching the shelves of Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian, Pakistani, and other exotic stores and receiving stares of incomprehension at his requests for “sorry juice.” Nor has anyone found a method of extracting it. Perhaps that’s the real secret of the chef of the South Pacific.*

* Flash! Stop press! Tom informs me that he has found some celery juice. At the International Safeway Store in Washington, D. C. It’s produced in the far east – New Jersey. Darn clever, these Chinese.

Favored Customers

In contrast to many restaurants and other business establishments, the South Pacific is very sensitive to complaints and criticisms from its customers. The responses to complaints may be a little peculiar and unanticipated but the sensitivity is there.

For reasons unknown, the restaurant may be nearly deserted at lunch time one day and overflowing the next. No discernible pattern has emerged in our years of patronage. This variability must give the management, or at least the cooks fits.

Recently on one of the overflowing days, I was waiting impatiently in line to be seated when a man came in who was greeted effusively by the manager and quickly escorted by the hostess to a table. The man ahead of me in the line took great offense at this and started complaining to the manager who tried to explain that the man was seated, not because he was an old, favored customer, but because he had a reservation. The disbelieving customer stormed out of the restaurant leaving me at the head of the line where I obtained almost immediate seating. Although I had not said a word to him, the manager followed me to the table to expostulate on the injustice of the complaint. Finally he said, “It wouldn’t be fair. You are old customer. Do we treat you special?

“No,” I said, “I can truthfully say that in all the years I’ve been eating here, you’ve never done one damn thing special for me.”

“See,” he said, beaming.

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Swift” at the Case

IS it possible that my typesetting speed is far below that of most amateur printers? At the Cleveland convention, some six or seven people entered the typesetting contest, and only one person was slower than I was, and he said he was a rank beginner. When I was fretting about this, Harold Segal said, “Does that really bother you?”

I said, “Damn right it bothers me. It’s not this contest that’s bothering me. It’s the hundreds of hours I spent setting type for the Boxwooder. For all I know, I’m spending twice as long as necessary setting type.”

Elaine Peck won the contest by three seconds over Bill Boys. Both of them set at twice my rate in the contest.

The contest did not require lines to be justified, therefore I did not try to deduce realistic typesetting speeds from the times of the contestants. I am much more interested in average speeds, at one’s own case, over a reasonable amount of setting time (at least one hour). I assume, but do not know, that this speed would be quite different from the spurt speed for an unjustified short take, as in the contest.

Anyway, at home, using my own type, I determined as of January 1975 it required an average of 105 minutes to set a page of the Boxwooder. Since a page is 28 lines with 22 ems per line, this is a speed of 352 ems per hour.

In January 1975, Alf Babcock, at my request, timed himself (his own case, his own journal) at 420 ems per hour.

Somewhere I found a reference to the champion typesetter of 1886, Alexander Duguid, who set 6804 ems in a 3-hour period for a rate of 2268 ems per hour.

So far then, I have these reference points:

2268 Alexander Duguid in 1886
420 Alf Babcock in 1975
352 Jake Warner in 1975

I would appreciate information on your rates calculated on the same basis (average of several pages of your journal using your own cases). If I get enough responses, I will publish a further note about typesetting speeds.

I would also like information on the normal rates for journeymen printers and for “swifts.”

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Type-Metal Blight

ANYONE who has bought used type and many who have bought only new type are familiar with the gradual decomposition of type metal into a grey powder. The face may be destroyed by the blight turning the smooth printing surfaces into a rough textured surface which will not print cleanly.

I assume there must be a lot of information available about this matter since it must have plagued printing houses for centuries, but I have found little about it.

I further assume that the blight is an electrolytic action between the metals of the alloy rather than an oxidation and is therefore difficult to stop. My observation is that it starts in the presence of moisture and attacks exposed surfaces. (Two pieces of type that are stuck together may have shiny surfaces where they were in contact though all exposed surfaces have been attacked.)

Printing ink, presumably the oil in it, tends to prevent the blight. Used type may have a smooth, shiny printing surface while the rest of the piece of type is covered with grey powder. In the same case, type that has never been inked may have had its face destroyed. Probably, moisture in the air in contact with the metal alloy starts and promotes the eletrolysis. Oiling affected type seems not to hinder the development of the blight. In fact I have found nothing that does any good.

In summary, my observations suggest that a dry storage location and an oil film on the type are good preventative measures, but that nothing seems to halt the action once it has started. I would appreciate further information or citation of references about this type destroyer.

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Hand set in Deepdene. Display types are Stymie Open, Stymie Medium, and Stymie Medium Italic. Paper stocks are unknown. Ink is Van Son 40904. Published by Jake Warner and 460 copies printed by him on a 10×15 Chandler & Price Press.

The Boxwood Press
Greenbelt, Maryland 20770

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