I will preface this post by saying, my grandfather has always been something of a Dumpster Diver. Growing up, as he did, in the Great Depression, there is no room in his mind for excess, or waste. In his prime, he was an educator, and elementary school principal. After he had retired, he returned to the same school where he’d been the man in charge and took up post as a custodian. Mostly because he enjoys painting buildings, interiors and exteriors, but also because I think he just wanted something to do with his hands. And of course, when he was not on the clock, he would be exploring Dumpsters, looking for trash that might well become a treasure. And he’s done quite well at it.
Over the years, myself and other members of my immediate family have received such items as an electric bass guitar, complete with gig bag, an almost full case of New Belgium’s Fat Tire amber ale, a case of Slim Fast, a replica of a Colt Navy 32 caliber cap and ball revolver, complete with leather holster, and countless boxes of cereal, which he would take down to the pond behind his condo complex to feed the ducks. Of all the items my grandfather ever retrieved, though, my favorite will always be the blue Webster typewriter he rescued from the trash at Trinity Christian School in Sacramento, California.
I was in the 8th grade at the time, Christmas was rapidly approaching, and myself and my two sisters had just slipped out of the public school system in the small town where we grew up and into a homeschool environment that, we all hoped, would be a better and more instructive environment for the three of us. I don’t remember the day or the specific circumstances under which I received the typewriter, and in fact, I believe it was given to all of the Schiek children to enjoy when they could be imposed upon to share. Whatever the case, I was the one who got the most use out of it. I remember unzipping the blue leather case that it came in, rolling in the first of the near-ancient sheets of legal size paper that had been hurriedly stashed in the case before it’s second to final destination in the school trash bin. And, as it happens, I can remember the first sentence I ever typed on that clickety clackety chunk of wonderful:
Hello, my name is Xzzxvd and I am a Jedi knight.
The adventures of Xzzxvd would continue over five or six more typewritten pages, chronicling the far from coherent exploits of a man who had gone insane and thought himself to be a Jedi knight. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had stumbled into my own version of the bumbling knight errant, Don Quixote, though apart from a few surface details, it would be another type of madness entirely to compare myself to the genius of Cervantes.
I had that typewriter through most of 1996, when a terrible thing happened. On July 4th of that year, my family went into town to enjoy the annual 4th of July Parade. I had gone up on bicycle, accompanied by my dad, my cousin and my uncle. I remember my dad and I got into a little collision when a motocross rider suddenly cut across our path. Finally, we arrived at my uncle’s place, just a quick jaunt through the woods to my own house, nearby. We were enjoying cold sodas when the phone rang and my uncle picked up. He handed the phone to my dad.
Our house had flooded while we were gone. One of the hoses connected to the back of our washing machine in the hallway had come loose, and since no one had been there to shut it off, it had continued to run until 90% of the flooring was under an inch or two of water. We lost a lot of stuff, and it was more than a year before we had fully recovered from the disaster. My dad laid in hardwood floors, and my mom got the carpet upgrade she’d been wanting. Myself, I tend to focus more on the losses. I lost a lot of my comic books. I lost a few toys. I lost my 1995 Fleer Flair Michael Jordan basketball card, the one where he came out of retirement wearing the number 45 instead of his usual 23, and before he changed it back to 23. Yeah. That one. And, as I have no memory of it after that event, I lost the typewriter.
Since that day, I have acquired a couple of new typewriters. Pictured above you’ll see an old Royal typewriter, much like the one used by Carl Reiner back in the fifties and sixties. I also have a Smith & Corona Galaxy model, which was unavailable for pictures this morning. I have typewriter fonts, which I use regularly. In fact, there is a slip of paper in the Royal that I typed up using the My Underwood font which reads: It was a dark and stormy night… At Christmas time, I change it out for a similar sheet, which reads: Twas a dark and stormy night before Christmas… I don’t use the actual typewriters much, but it’s good to know they’re there.
Most recently, however, I discovered a little gem developed by Mr. Tom Hanks, called Hanx Writer. The app is available for the iPad, and I believe for tablet devices on the Android market. Essentially, this app does for writing what the Hipstamatic app did for so-bad-it’s-actually-beautiful-plastic-camera-photography. It has all the clicks and pings you’d expect from a real typewriter, and, if one is so inclined, can even be set up to have the modern day delete function disabled in favor of old school typo correction; X’s over the letter, blotches on the page, and so on. Further, there are in app purchases that allow the user to up/downgrade their typewriter. The screenshot above shows the first sentence or so of a new novel that I’ve begun to compose, and intend to finish entirely on the app. But that new novel is actually shorter than this post, as of right now, so I am going to leave it at that. That same grandfather, the one who has climbed in and out of countless dumpsters, is still alive and well, and a great lover of stories, so I come by my long-windedness honestly. When he finishes telling a story, he might look deep into your eyes—which always makes me uncomfortable—maybe grab one of your hands between both of his and give it a squeeze. You’d swear that there were tears coming, that the next thing out of his mouth will be of profound intellectual or emotional importance, but then suddenly the grasp releases, and he slides back from the table:
"Thanks for listening," he says, and gets up to do the dishes.
Thanks for listening.