He was another writer.
At the age of six he was spinning yarns to an imaginary audience, (wondrous tales of hyper-cosmic rocket-ships commandeered by samurais, of cunning foxes ruling rabbit kingdoms, of clockwork hearts sitting square in the metal chests of sentimental robots.)
The writer’s mother said: “With a mind like that, he’s going to write books.”
The writer’s father said: “We’ll see, we’ll see.”
At the age of seven he learned to read, and to write passably in a calligraphic scrawl. In a defining week, he went through “The Dog in the Fog,” “When the Free Creatures Roamed,” “Daisy Goes To Dazeyworld,” and “The Adventures of Cantaloupe John.” He told his father: “It’s all very beautiful.”
The writer’s father was a little concerned, but he was an optimist first and foremost, and hoped the phase would pass.
The writer, sprawled on a straw mat, eyeing papery rose bushes, nibbling on a number 2 pencil, writing his first poem:
“A rose in the garden: A blushing-faced warden.”
By then, the writer’s father had given up hope and taken up drinking.
At the age of ten the writer found himself in possession of a typewriter, (already gauzed in archaic smells, small as a bug and heavy as a tombstone.) The writer’s mother made the offering at his birthday party, sat the typewriter by a similarly squat cake, and said: “No more playing around, Mister. This machine is going to make you rich.”
And the writer’s father was in the kitchen drunkenly nibbling on the writer’s mother’s sister’s pink fleshy earlobe.
Early in his scholastic life the writer turns in a fascinating piece entitled “What I Did During my Summer Vacation, or, May these Eyes Kiss the Sun Once Again.” Miss Sawyer, his English teacher, (a woman of towering red hair and over-rouged cheeks) scribbles at the bottom of the essay: “Lots of potential. Good vocabulary. A+.” Below this, the writer scribbles: “I love you, Miss Sawyer.”
He then hides the paper away.
At the age of 13 the writer begins to be openly mocked for his literary looks: corrective lenses, braces, and other accoutrements of imperfection. His only friends are a ridiculously fat Star Trek fanboy and a budding lesbian, skinny as a branch, who cuts her own hair and allows the writer to kiss her in exchange for his lunch money. The writer, mad with creation, imagines he is actually running his tongue over the red-pepper lips of Melanie Harris, a precocious user of make-up. Several unsuccessful attempts to court said Melanie Harris lead to rejection, dejection, and an embarrassing bout of masturbation.
The writer is in high school, a large building named after a small president.
Mrs. Trudy, his gym teacher, says he runs faster than a sack of potatoes, but not as gracefully.
Mr. Ruler, his math teacher, says he has no sense of spatial relations.
Miss Sawyer, whose face has gotten redder with time, approves of him.
The principal, Mr. McFellow, shakes his head: “How does such a harmless kid get into so much trouble?”
The writer tosses at night, coughs, develops sympathetic asthma, clutches a dog-eared copy of the complete works of William Shakespeare. He knows one day he will be rich and famous. He knows that when he makes an entrance at his 10-year high school reunion, Melanie Harris will want to kill herself for not having loved him.
Devastated by the beauty of a concrete sky and of a predator sun that swoops down on clouds like a hawk on sheep, the writer runs home to end it all. He swallows a dozen aspirin and paces his room in a philosophic homage to Hemlock and Heaven, feeling condemned by the unfeeling. He eventually grows tired, falls asleep, wakes up the next day. He is late for class but otherwise unharmed.
At the age of 18 the writer goes off to college, to a nice enough school that could have been much better and should have been much farther away. He discovers Philip Roth, William S. Burroughs, Virginia Woolf and Thomas Pynchon, and openly reneges on the heroes of his youth, particularly Ernest Hemingway, who is, (in the writer’s loud, often unsolicited opinion), a solid writer but sickeningly macho while paradoxically much too intent on hiding his obvious homosexuality. This stance endears him to some of the more feminine feminists on campus: the writer finally gets laid.
The writer enjoys getting laid almost as much as he enjoys getting drunk.
As part of his senior project, the writer begins to work on a first novel- which will summarize and void most of the literature preceding it, which will distill the human experience into 225 pages, which will ultimately rescue fiction from the clutches of the established barbarians. He accidentally drops some whiskey on his typewriter, the same typewriter that has stood by him with canine loyalty, and he feels a treacherous sort of agony that can only be dissipated with a second round of the juice.
There. Much better.
The writer works for two weeks, at the end of which he is mostly satisfied with the title page.
The novel is called: “The Everything is the Eye”
Or: “Snapshot with Murderous Salesmen”
Or: “Adventures of a Young Man in an Old World”
He is not sure.
A few of the writer’s poems, (tortured and transparent, like blown glass) are published in a literary journal that will fall in the hands of almost a dozen people.
Four of those belong to the writer’s immediate family, after he dutifully sends copies home.
The writer’s mother replies:
“This is beautiful! You are an amazing writer and I knew it. Did they pay you a lot?”
The writer works part time at a chain bookstore, doing a serviceable job of concealing his contempt for the customers who don’t realize that, no, renowned actor Tom Hardy did NOT write “Far from the Madding Crowd.”
At the age of 23 the writer marries Sarah, his girlfriend of six months. It’s fine, because she’s very much not like him, and he caresses her otherness, tip-toes around her functional illiteracy, overlooks her devotion to day-time reality shows. Sarah has long blonde hair and a sharp-but-mousy nose that the writer finds charming until one February morning in which he finds himself cradling the unexpected desire to hack it off her face.
Their collected income is barely sufficient, but they are fairly happy together. Sarah prepares “Exprecittos” for a coffee-shop. The writer becomes the manager of the bookstore. He watches over books that come tied together like African slaves, packed in asphyxiating boxes. The purple-pink covers are cries for help. He attends seminars on customer satisfaction procedures and sexual harassment deterrence and season-effective paradigms, and he learns new words that, it seems to him, aren’t as real as the old words. The writer never completely abandons his novel, which is now entitled: “The Summary.”
He taps at his typewriter.
Adds a paragraph.
Realizes it hasn’t improved things.
Subtracts the paragraph.
Sarah grows to be very sullen, her nose gets sharper. There is an intolerable wetness to her eyes. The writer is deeply resentful when, after asking for some honest criticism of his work in progress, she says:
“It’s hard to read out of a freaking type-writer! It’s so insane, just buy a computer already!”
At the age of 28, the writer stares at the badly spelled post-it on the refrigerator door. It’s all Sarah has left behind. Fortunately, the writer has a bottle of scotch. This is not to say that he doesn’t cry a little, but he’s mostly inspired, and spends the whole night curled over his faithful typewriter, working on “The Summary,” hacking away at the pivotal character of Lanah: Once an angelic young bride, she’s now a syphilitic scam artist who is trampled by a rampaging rhino, in one of the book’s more gruesome episodes. At the age of 33 the writer abandons the bookstore for a job teaching English at the old high school.
Miss Sawyer has died of uterine cancer, he learns.
Mr. McFellow’s hair is all gone.
He is recognized by neither Mrs. Trudy nor Mr. Ruler, although he often sees himself forced to have lunch with them in the faculty lounge.
“I am a writer,” he tells his class. “I am a writer.”
The writer’s first novel is now called “The Eye is the Everything.” It is complete, and completely rejected by several major publishers. The market has fluctuated, he is told. His agent kindly lets him know that it’s not necessarily a good idea to have an agent at all.
At the age of 38 the writer attends his high school’s twenty-year reunion. He does not have to travel far.
Time has slipped out like a spy. The high school gym is full of bloated, unrecognizable faces busily involved in elaborate lies. The writer reflects that this is not unlike writing: clunky writing, the output of braggarts and car salesmen and women suckling at success.
“Then we saw Emmylou and with a black man no less but we were in Italy and there is nothing like a promotion but I told the boss that’s too much money when he said twins and I could not believe it!”
The writer is appalled.
“What do you write about?” Someone asks him, as expected.
“Truth,” the writer replies, as expected.
“Truth? Writing about truth is like drinking about sobriety! What you need to do, my friend, is to tell one hell of a lie.”
“Drinking,” the writer thinks. “Now I could tell you something about that.”
Instead he tells the still-beautiful Melanie Harris that he is writing a dissertation on coded homosexuality and Hemingway’s work, and she tries to be polite but her face sinks in supreme boredom. Turns out, she wrote a book too. Her book is called “Shopping Spree,” and it has been auctioned by Margarine Pictures for $200,000, to be turned into a screenplay and, (“fingers crossed, fingers crossed!”) a major motion picture.
“It’s a small thing,” she says. “It’s very funny and romantic, about being single in today’s crazy dating world.”
“Are you single?” He promptly asks.
She laughs: “Eeew, no! God no!”
The writer went home that night, not quite drunk but far from sober. He felt slight, as though he was a carbon-copy. He felt worthless, completely unable to tame even the aging grey lion of his ambition.
So he slumped in front of his typewriter, his antique friend, and purred to her. He let his blurred eyes follow the ribbon that wound around her spool so tightly. He stared at her faded key-tops and at her martial carriage. He rolled in a whole new piece of paper into her. He savored the ritual.
“It is now,” he thought. “It all begins now.”
And he began to type
There was no 1.
The key was stuck. The click boomed in the writer’s head, it was the futile sound of a bullet-less gun, the clucking laughter of the universe.
Even the artifact of his trade had betrayed him.
In a fit of existential fury he jerked the typewriter off the table, hurled her against a wall, watched her crack against the plaster and come loose in her case, and then come further apart on the floor.
And he began to yell in triumphant defeat – FUCK BEING A WRITER, FUCK EVERY WRITER EVER, FUCK IT ALL
But then he stopped because he couldn’t bear the sight of his typewriter broken and loose on the floor. Her red and black ribbons were spilling out like sad intestines. The writer sat on the floor, and felt very sorry. He brought the fractured pieces together. Pushed the space bar back into place. Gently re-aligned the type-guide. Ran his fingers over all the stuck keys. Brought some oil from the kitchen. Fit her joints again. Placed the case over the machine. Replaced the ribbons.
He was absorbed for hours, and happy.
His drink went untouched.
That was how he found out he had been sadly mistaken.
He wasn’t a writer. He had never been a writer.
What he was- what he REALLY was- was a typewriter repairman.