Maybe it's the nostalgia jag I'm on with Mad Men, maybe it's memories of the thrill I had as a kid getting my first typewriter (I was a wannabe writer geek as a boy, still am), but the thought of these obsolete machines brings with it powerful recollections.
I wish I'd kept at least a few pages of the reams of shit I knocked out on that thing. It was a little plastic-encased jobby, still a manual but not nearly so onerous to use as the 1950s metal Underwood monstrosity my Mom had.
I pecked out numerous "episodes" of a family sitcom entitled 'Leave it to Bitcher' on that little machine. My alternative 'Leave it to Beaver' universe had June turning tricks, Wally selling smack to Lumpy and Eddie at the local high school and Ward as an end-stage alcoholic (but ever the ham, he never quite leaves the stage). The Bitcher - Theodore - was a pyromaniac who was being sexually molested by Miss Landers. It was a merry romp, to be sure - shot through innocent eyes, framed in the Eisenhower age of the nuclear family. With a healthy dollop of my twisted worldview melting down its core.
Now to be sure, my mother was not a prostitute, though she always gave me the impression she wouldn't be opposed to the idea, liking to brag that her paternal grandmother was thought to be a turn-of-the-century hooker in Norway. The truth is that my maternal grandfather did not know his biological mother - it's just speculation, rumor, gossip. But the point is made. Anyway, my sister didn't sell black tar heroin at Everett High (at least not that I'm aware of) and I neither set fires nor screwed any of my grade school teachers (from what I recall of them, thank God for that).
That leaves dear ol' Dad. He was the real deal and a model for my Ward in the Bitcher series. But Ward was mainly a supporting character in my teleplays. Sure, he'd stumble in and out of scenes, vomit caking his 'business suit,' always with a slur and a "honey, I'm home, ya goddam whassa, don't tell me, Christ! Blahhh." Still, he didn't generally stay conscious long enough to figure into any of the main story lines.
Ward did have one memorable scene attempting to show the Bitcher some fatherly concern and support upon hearing the news that Miss Landers was pregnant and the fire marshal was gunning for the boy. The old man leaned over his son for a pat on the head and a hug, but he mismanaged the distance and lost the delicate balance of his equilibrium, weaving to and fro. The next thing you know, up came his liquid lunch all over the Bitcher's face. Whatta mess!
And Ward always seemed to be involved indirectly.
For example, there was the recurring 'coda' bit that took place in the boys' bedroom after June walks by the door with a john and pauses to remind the Bitcher to do his chores "or there will be no 'fireworks' for you tonight, young man" before heading off to the 'working' bedroom to ply her trade.
Occasionally Eddie or Lumpy were there, having stopped by in need of a fix. But they were simply background fodder here, tying off and shooting up quietly or already on the nod in the corner.
The sappy Leave It To Bitcher theme music softly, slowly plays in 'there's a lesson to be taught here' style:
Bitcher: "I really hate emptying out Dad's vomit bowel, Wally"
Wally : "Gee, Bitcher, I know it's kinda nasty but shucks, I had to do it when I was your age. Just breathe through your mouth and look away from the puke. You're lucky, back when I was a little squirt like you, Dad could actually eat food and the stuff he heaved up was way more disgusting. I'll dump it out for you this time, I have to go down stairs anyway."
Bitcher: "Gosh, Thanks, Wally!"
Wally: "Sure. I remember what it was like to be a little goof your age. I gotta run down to the park now. Your pal Larry wants a taste and looks like he might be a potentially good customer of mine in the years ahead. Watch Lumpy, will ya? That's some potent stuff he's mainlining and Mom will clobber me if we have another O.D. in the house and have to call Dr. Bradley again. Remember that mess when Mary Ellen Rogers shot a speedball up here laced with fentanyl and died? Gosh, the medical examiner raised a stink and ol' Dr. Bradley almost lost his license!"
Bitcher: "Sure, Wally. Ya know, for a degenerate drug dealer, sometimes you're an okay big brother."
Wally : "Gee, thanks, Bitch."
Wally tassels his kid brother's hair with the usual goofy look on his face.
I'll admit, that particular scene wasn't taken whole cloth from my imagination - I have to tip my hat to Dad for some real life inspiration there. Thanks, Pops, I couldn't have done it without you.
The main story lines usually revolved around Bitcher's fires and trysts with Miss Landers or with June's burgeoning prostitution business. And boy was business booming, so to speak. Fred Rutherford served as her pimp and pretty much every other character regularly passing through Mayfield ended up as a client whether they be male or female, young or old.
I was 14/15 or thereabouts when pounding out these masterpieces. I miss the thrill of whacking the return/paper feed lever one last time and pulling the final sheet out of the machine, the mechanical moves putting an exclamation point on completion of my handiwork. Lots of strike overs and whiteout editing remained, of course, but still. I'd be all warm with either pride or the start of what became a peptic ulcer, my bare feet curled up under the desk in my room, toes lost in the orange shag carpet (hey, that was styling in the day and besides, I inherited the room and carpet from my sister).
I have no idea as to the quality of this shit. Somehow back then I was sure each piece was pure Gold, Jerry, Gold - goddamn genius in the eyes of this beholder. At least once I was done with the incessant editing, which I did to the point where you couldn't read the thing, with more whiteout visible than there was plain paper. Man what I could have done with a word processor.
Still, brilliant for sure. Had he started Inside the Actor's Studio (for you non-believers, not for actors only) back in the early 70s, I'm sure James Lipton would have killed for the privilege of asking me my favorite curse word. But alas, he was toiling on soap operas and I was a prodigy without a pedigree, destined not to be discovered.
Given I was the only one to ever see these masterpieces, and they are lost to the world now, we'll just assume I was right as to their worth and move on.
Lots of bad Dylan and Costello knock-off "lyrics" or "poems" also came off the Birnam assembly line on the rat-a-tat-tat machine in the late 70s as I perfected my touch typing skills. I guess that typewriter and the work it produced represented my Ignatius Big Chief tablets through that period. The 'wisdom' of a teen locked in his thoughts, barricaded in his room, blasting out Costello and the Clash on the eight track, fingers emptying onto those clacking keys work that would rock the world. Or something along those lines.
In the end I'm pretty sure it was all pure dreck, but that's sort of beside the point.
BTW, if you don't get the 'Big Chief' reference above, shame on you: go out now, purchase a copy of A Confederacy of Dunces and read it at once.
Sense memory is a strange thing. All this from a glance at one of them sleek cling clang machines.