The Labelmaker


The spare bedroom is crammed from wall to wall with bookshelves for earlier interests. Now clear plastic packets of labels and boxes of envelopes cluster around the printer, and sheets and rolls of postage stamps overflow an old candy box. A wall map of the U.S. is covered with red paper dots, denser by urban areas and the East Coast. Each tiny sticker marks a city or a town that has received labels made in this room. Every state has at least one dot; some dots represent as many as a dozen families.

The computer that started this web of connection sits on the desk near the window. He can see the shape of Rainier against the morning light when he checks the e-mail to see who wants his labels today: A lady in Yellowknife, in northern Canada; a doctor of some kind in New York City, within close walking distance of Ground Zero; a guy in a small town in Pennsylvania that he needs to look up in Google in order to locate it on the map. (Is he the cook or is he ordering for his wife?)

He likes the idea that what he makes for them has to do with food carefully prepared to feed a family, or friends, or maybe just a solitary soul that still knows the pleasure of complex flavors and scents in a meal. Some of their spice lists are impressive catalogs over one hundred items long. The idea of custom spice labels was almost an accident -- just one thing he could think of that gave an excuse to use his font collection. Let them choose how their spice jars would look by choosing their typefaces. Who would have guessed that no one else did this?

A strange business in the internet age, at once intimate and isolated, sometimes providing unexpected glimpses into other lives -- a new home; a remodeled kitchen; a hand-made spice rack; a renewed interest in cooking after surviving cancer; a gift for a daughter's first home. People, often surprised to find someone making something just for them, become polite, appreciative, friendly and even curious at times. Who would do this? Sometimes they tell their friends.

It's not a living, but it is alive, and if he uses the income to take his wife to lunch or dinner, it seems fitting.


© 2008 Michael Yanega


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