I just put Baby, my Underwood 5 "Touchmaster" up for sale on eBay.
I typed on one of these during summer camp in the Marine Corps Reserves, the summer of the moon landing, the summer I met my father for the first time. I was twenty-nine.
Tappity-tap-tap, slide... Ding! Wimpy computers don't give that satisfying feedback.
Baby is the same model featured in Finding Forrester that prompted Sean Connery to exclaim, "Punch the keys, for God's sake!"
The memories radiating from Baby start with high school typing class where I punched out, "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country" and other such drills on one of her siblings. I've had Baby since college and typed on one just like her at Basic Admin School, Camp Pendleton, CA, 1967. I had her refurbished in the early '80s and she has sat in a closet, properly covered ever since, except when I brought her out for the kids and their friends.
I am ending a fifty-plus year relationship with a twenty-three-pound hunk of steel that faithfully transferred my thoughts onto paper without judgment or complaint. Through the Civil Rights era, the Vietnam era. Through Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush-1, Clinton, Bush-2, and now Obama.
During the turbulent '60s I was a budding moderate Texas Right-winger, niave and brainwashed by H.L. Hunt's extremist right-wing radio propaganda. It was all a TV show to me, the Missiles of October, the anti-war and civil rights demonstrations, the assassinations--the Kennedys, Medgar Evars, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and The Bay of Pigs drifted in one ear and out the other.
Thank God I learned from it all in retrospect.
Those were the days of smelly Mimeographs and the gummy blue stencils we used to cut orders for Vietnam. The mobilization packets bulged. ID cards. Beneficiary designations. We were on three-day mobilization alert for months but our Korean War-era helicopters were too old. We weren't wanted.
The summer of '69 my squadron, HMM-777, was stationed for two suffocating weeks at Bogue Field, a remote landing field scooped out of Northern Florida's dense mosquito-infested pine forest. The makeshift landing strip was paved with perforated metal sheets instead of concrete, and the nearest town, Jacksonville, was forty miles away. We lived in tents. There were no TVs. We listened to the moon landing on a portable radio.
We improvised a casino and the latrine orderlies, Hinsley and Hinkle, collected money and made beer runs to Jacksonville each afternoon.
I finagled a ride on one of our choppers for a two-day cross-country hop through Washington, DC, Charlotte and Memphis. I spoke with my father's wife from a Charlotte phone booth and the three of them--father, step-mother and my eight-year-old half-sister--drove all night from south of Louisville. We shared a two-hour breakfast at the Memphis National Guard Armory before an approaching storm drove our birds aloft.
He was a retired Army Major who had married my beautiful alcoholic mother during the chaos of World War II, a war marriage that lasted until he shipped out for Germany eight months after Hiroshima and Nagasaki went up in smoke.
We talked about small things because there were too many big ones vying for the neck of that funnel--like what life was like in the Texas orphanage where I spent the last half of my childhood. It was an unregrettably good two hours. A beginning.
And now here's Baby, coming out of retirement to face an auction block. Makes my heart quiver just looking at her.
One of the potential e-Bay bidders is a writer with bad eyes. He needs the larger script. I typed and uploaded a sample but it took a while before I could adjust to those heavy keys. The music of unforgiving steel hammering against the platen took me back to morning cigarette breaks at Marine Corps admin school, San Onofre. "O-kay, the smoking lamp is now lit!" the sargent would call as the distant thundering blue surf curled toward us in the California sun.
When I returned to my computer I found myself banging the wimpy plastic keyboard with unnecessary force. Keyboard... , hmpf, a term we didn't use back then. How times have changed.
Have writers gone soft because everything is so easy, or are we being sling-shot toward new realms of greater possibility?
It is scary the way politics have torn this country apart since the cancellation of the Fairness Doctrine opened the floodgates for extremist Right-wing propaganda to brainwash the masses.
Trust has been ransomed for oil. I can't take an airline flight without being scrutinized, scanned or frisked, afraid to sneeze in the security maze. Bogue Field is concrete now. Humanism is getting flattened. The pendulum better swing back before it flies off the handle. Thank God for Bill Moyers and PBS.
On a shelf next to my bed is a leather-bound Webster dictionary I bought the summer before going off to college. It weighs a couple of pounds and has about 30,000 words. In my backpack is a Franklin-Webster electronic dictionary that weighs a few ounces and has 400,000 words, a thesaurus, word games, spelling lists, blah-blah. The Franklin won't let me flag words the way I have in the leather-skinned Webster but its definitions are more handy and succinct.
I wonder if "platen" is in there.
...Update. After three failed eBay auctions, someone answered my CraigsList ad. I delivered Baby yesterday to a guy in San Leandro, a freelance paralegal disabled by a stroke. He met me at the curb. He wore a top hat and was leaning heavily on a cane. He writes short stories on the side. A nice guy. Smart. Cheery. He came to California from back east, where he was notorious among the local cops for taking care of homeless war veterans.
Baby has a good home.
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