By Clyde James Aragon
News that author Cormac McCarthy of All The Pretty Horses and No Country For Old Men fame has received a cool quarter of a million dollars for charity for his old Olivetti typewriter has gladdened the hearts of writers everywhere. Having taken our vows of poverty at the start of our careers, we see at least the shimmer of a big payoff at the end of the artistic tunnel.
His good fortune made me think about my own situation and I looked around the treasure trove that is my writing room/sleeping compartment/storage area/dog kennel. In the far corner rests my old Hermes typewriter, a manual, dusty but still serviceable, cast aside years ago for the ease of, first, an electric typewriter, then a word processor and, currently, a laptop computer. The old Hermes, like Mr. McCarthy’s, just oozes memories. Ink stains still remain on its cover, eraser shavings still remain caught in its teeth, even splotches of Wite-Out give testimony to the intellectual effort going on at its worn keys. The titanic battles that occurred there on a daily basis are only hinted at, battles between sentences and paragraphs, language and grammar, fingers and tabs. Worth at least a half million dollars, I’d say.
I look further. Off to my left, surrounded by mangled folders and reams of paper, is an old, tattered notebook. Its yellowed pages still hold the thoughts of my early years. Here, toward the middle lies this inspired gem: Jamie stood at the precipice of life and wondered if she should leap off or go back to work at the bank, potluck in hand, for the annual Christmas party.
Or the lines that would begin my first novel, Love in the Gutter: It was raining that morning and the sky drooled heavy on Mick’s head. He had stood forlornly on the sidewalk for nearly an hour staring down at his heavily-muddied boots. But a sudden motion to his left startled him and he looked up to see the face of an angel.
I was a romantic then. Now I’m into sci-fi. That notebook can leave the premises for 300 thou.
My old writing desk should be able to finance a comfortable retirement and I look nostalgically at its hardwood planks, which still hold the stain of a long rivulet of coffee. Like a portrait of the Virgin Mary on a stucco wall, it taught me two important life lessons: Always begin a story with a hook and never, never bring food to your work area. I’ll let it go for somewhere in the arena of 400,000 smackers.
Under my desk is a cardboard shoe box packed with writing accessories: pens, pencils, big pink erasers, tarnished paper clips, old bottles of Wite-Out with their contents dried to a milky stone, a sort-of-working stapler, a box of dried rubber bands, their muscles turned into tan desiccated spaghetti by time, my first hole puncher, even a piece of string whose purpose I’ve long ago forgotten and a half chewed blob of gum, mint, of course. The entire box is filled with a grayish strata of lint attesting to a work schedule that didn’t allow for housecleaning. Some of these are still in working order and all you need do is boil the highlighting pens in oil and they’ll be drawing attention to your words in no time. Seventy-five thousand, please.
All around the room are other reminders of my writing life: a well-thumbed paperback dictionary with page 48 missing, a thesaurus I picked up at a used bookstore, an encyclopedia that theorizes that someday man would walk on the moon, a phone book from 1986 and a Mister Coffee owner’s manual. All tools of the trade, especially the Mister Coffee, the device now securely sequestered in my kitchen, the very first model they came out with that Joe DiMaggio coaxed me into buying. How could you turn down the steely pitch of the Yankee Clipper? It still works. The lot a steal for $280,000.
I also put on the sales block my entire collection of rejection slips, proof to the world and the IRS that I actually spent a good deal of my time trying to make money by putting my thoughts to paper. Glancing at this mountain of work, I see mass-produced brush-offs beginning with Dear Sir, Esteemed Author, and To Whom It May Concern. I also know that in that mountain of messages are hand-penned missives from overworked editors and apprentice hacks starting off with Hey you!, Dear Crumbbag, You Filthy Little Turd, and there’s one that personally threatens my life if I ever come around a certain publisher’s daughter again. Worth a king’s ransom but I’ll let it go for a mere bank draft in the order of 800,000 US dollarinos.
Finally, I offer my prizest of prized possessions: my writing chair, a swiveling wheeled wooden banker’s chair that squeaks when you lean back in it, its wooden seat buffed to a gloss from my years of polishing it. You know, it was on this very chair where I wrote my one and only poem: “The Gentle Nightingale.” You remember that one, I’m sure. It holds the lines that will render me immortal: The nightingale blushed/like the school girl/caught in her first crush.
I tussled with my conscience over that chair for days. The memories of a life well typed, the elation of acceptance, the despair of rejection, the pure joy of a resounding chorus after a splendid dinner. Well, if I must, I’ll take 630,000 for it, but not a penny less. This is history, after all.
So there you have it, my friends. My life and objects all for sale, perhaps at Christie’s auction house, possibly on eBay or maybe outside my house in a Friday morning garage sale for passing fanciers of fine antiquities.
Come one, come all and buy, buy, buy my memories; purchase by piece or lot my writing life.
Sorry, no checks accepted.
Clyde James Aragon is an Albuquerque humor writer whose work has appeared in national magazines, as well as many Southwestern newspapers and magazines.