Contemplations – 2
Where was I? Oh, the IBM Selectric. Fabulous machine. After graduation I left Southern Illinois behind, went to Chicago, lusting for big city life: my own apartment, and all things adult. It wasn’t easy. I’d learned nothing in school about finding a job. My degree was in Conceptual Design and I had no idea know where to look for that kind of entry to the working world. At last, in desperation, I took a job as salesman for Underwood Olivetti. They made typewriters, and a huge, clunky calculator called the Divisuma . . . supposedly far ahead of its time.
I was sent to a sales school in Hartford, Connecticut for three weeks, and taught about the equipment, how to use and demonstrate it . . . sales pitches. On returning to Chicago I was assigned a territory along State Street, a shabby, run down area that sprawled dismally below the Elevated tracks. Three weeks later the IBM Selectric was introduced to the public – the ball typewriter.
Salesmen would walk into an office, run the flat of their hands across the keyboard, and the machine would go nuts spewing out immaculate letters below a carbon ribbon. Secretaries fell in love at first glance. There was a four month wait to get one . . . couldn’t make them fast enough. IBM salesmen got rich. I got depressed.
I never sold a single Underwood machine, and finally gave it up. I joined the Army. Years later, after a barely honorable discharge, diligent saving, and self sacrifice, I was able to buy my own Selectric . . . around five hundred bucks as I remember, huge amount of money at the time, but the machine was worth it. I loved the thing. It was as good as it ever got for typewriters. Obsoleted by time, one still sees stacks of them in office closets, and school basements . . . sad.
The things used paper!
One sees pleas on Facebook. Don’t give up on paper. Buy hard copies . . . the pleasure of turning non-virtual pages. I agree. Paper is a nicer experience, familiar, and more pleasant than reading a monitor, or Ipad, cell phones . . . strain my eyes. I’m getting old, but can see the virtual advantages. Wife and I hauled better than three hundred pounds of books with us last time we moved. We have three bookcases filled with books that, for the most part, will never be read again, and any information they contain can be found easily on Google.
Twelve years ago I bought a beautiful Webster’s, 3rd New International Dictionary.
Paid almost $15o for it, weighs about ten pounds. ‘The #1 reference source for the millennium.’ it says on the cover. I’ve used it once. You can get them for $75 now, as obsolete as the Selectric. Sad . . . this beautiful book, just taking up space. What to do with it?
There’s a huge paper mill here in Borlänge, Sweden, but they’ve laid off thousands of employees. Newspapers are in trouble. I guess toilet paper’s good for the millennium, but who knows? I remember the punch line of an old design school joke: “It’s coming out in little paper packages!”
Paper money is fast becoming a thing of the past. I paid cash for a coat last week. The salesman asked me, “Don’t they use credit cards in Seattle?”
“I’m the only one left that doesn’t,” I told him. Cash feels so much better, safer, easier. I find myself impatient with shoppers fumbling with cards, and passwords at the cashregister. I recently read about a device thieves use to pick up thermal images on keypads minutes after being used by customers. I miss travelers checks, and letters of credit. I still have a copy of my last letter of credit somewhere. “We are gentlemen,” it states at the bottom of the page. Can you imagine? We are gentlemen….
People can lose their homes without ever leaving them on on-line casinos. We have e-books, 130 million of them according to Google. I have three on Amazon US, and UK. two are long, short stories. One takes place in Brazil, the other features a dementia grandma who runs away from a care facility and is adopted by a motorcycle gang.
My opus magnum features a downsized, middle age man in Seattle who can’t find work. I’ve always been good at not finding work . . . not good at selling. My books are lost in a sea of twaddle. I’m not saying my own aren’t twaddle, just that they lie relatively unknown in an e-book Sargasso sea of digital tomes.
It’s not much better for new writers published by reputable houses. They’re given a thousand bucks to use for promotions, and told, “Go out and sell.” Some writers are good at it, but most of us are introverts who find self promotion painful. A middle/working class morality sneaks its way into the picture. Bragging is rude. Don’t blow your own horn. I came across the quote below in Wallace Stegner’s, Angle of Repose.
“I am much of what my parents and especially my grandparents were – inherited stature, coloring, brains, and bones, plus transmitted prejudices, culture, scruples, likings, moralities, and moral errors that I defend as if the were personal and not familial.”
Next week: More about obsolescence, digital distractions . . . scams.