Long ago in the late Sixties I became the Master of Wilson College at Princeton. The grandiose title was more misleading than most. Wilson College was a monument of social engineering, an “alternative” residential and dining facility designed by college administrators for students who rejected, with greater or lesser political vehemence, the old system of private, selective dining clubs on Prospect Street, a relic of the age of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Wilson College was a club, that is, for people who hated clubs. Being its Master was roughly like being the Chief Whip of the International Anarchist Congress.
For my birthday in 1970 my wife bought me a very imaginative gift: a sixteen hundred pound flatbed Vandercook press (proving machine). She had found this, by methods unrevealed, at what I must describe as a printing equipment morgue in Camden, New Jersey. If this place was not a Mafia front, its proprietors deserved to be prosecuted for false pretenses. They cannot possibly have made a living from selling the superannuated machinery occupying a couple of acres of New Jersey urban blight. But that was not my problem. My problem was that I had to take a truck down to Camden, load the press, transport it, and then get it up the front stairs of a large Victorian house on University Place, Princeton.
The annual Printing of the Christmas Card falls somewhere between a ritual and an ordeal in this household. The ordeal part is entirely a function of my sloth. There is no reason, in principle, why a Christmas card could not be printed in the leisure of a summer afternoon. Certainly nothing would forbid its being printed on a sunny Saturday in October. In fact, however, the Iron Law of Procrastination determines that the project cannot even be begun before December 15. Otherwise it cannot compete with all the other postponed non-negotiable Christmas preparations—getting the tree, excavating in the crawl-space for the decorative lights, baking the cookies, cutting the firewood, et caetera. I do have a fallback position. Years ago I had a line etching made from a Renaissance woodcut of Saint Anthony Abbot, alias Anthony of the Desert. This able ascetic is most helpful to procrastinating printers, among others, for his feast day is January 17. Even when I default on Christmas, I can usually get a card done by then.