The typewriter stared back. Silent. Smug. Mocking.
And as evidenced by the growing jumble of beer cans heaped on the counter and the shallow groove being worn into the shoddy wooden floors, the typewriter had been mute a lot recently.
But that wasn’t always the case.
The typewriter was a 1954 Smith-Corona Travel Deluxe. With its pristine hard-shelled case and unique cursive script, it could probably fetch a pretty penny at any of the antique stores downtown. But no matter how destitute, Jake would never consider selling it. Its value went far beyond money. It was both a link to his past and his ticket to the future.
A gift from his doting grandmother, it was a relic from her own younger days. Always a restless youth, she wasn’t content to stay in the south Chicago neighborhood of her Irish forbearers. So she spent her youth criss-crossing this great expanse we call a country, devouring every new city, every new experience, the typewriter her sole companion until that day that her wanderlust was finally satiated with a chance meeting in the least likely of all places.
His grandmother would regale him with that story, the story of how she met his granddad, every Sunday, during their weekly ritual of banter and pancakes. And every week he listened with rapt attention. So much so that by the time he was ten, he would finish it with her, holding her hand as they looked at the photo on the wall of the man they both loved and missed so much.
“…and it didn’t matter that I was a big city girl. I took one look at that shy, young farmhand, standing there in the cold on that forlorn train platform in the middle of absolute nowhere, and I knew that my traveling days were done.”
It was those moments, sitting at her little farmhouse table, listening as she spun magic with nothing but words, that became the seed of Jake wanting to become a writer. And as any good farmer would, his grandmother fed that seed. She fertilized it with tales of all of the places she had been, describing how each place had its own personality, its own cadence, its own smells, and she nourished it with the works of the writers she loved, giving special attention to local-born Willa Cather and Weldon Kees, just to prove to him that even those from small town Nebraska could blossom into great writers.
She presented him with the typewriter after graduation, along with a check for three thousand dollars. Tears blurred his vision as he lifted the sleek, hard cover, making it hard to read the piece of paper tucked into the roller. On it was just three typed words.
Go. Live. Write.
And write he did.
Oh, how that old Smith-Corona used to sing! His stipend was long gone by the time he hit New York City, used up on long rambling train rides and nights of jubilation, but that didn’t matter. He spent his days doing whatever menial tasks it took to pay the bills and those hours of drudgery became perfect fodder, giving his brain plenty of time to ferment. By the time he got home the words would be bubbling up and ready to pour forth, frothy and delicious and intoxicating. His fingers, like a chorus line of tiny madcap dancers, would kick and stomp across the keys, filling his little hovel with a cacophonous din of rat-a-tat-tats and clickety-clacks.
Times were good. The economy, and a certain White House intern with an affinity for blue dresses, were humming along. In the city, Jake fell in with a bohemian crowd of artists and writers, like-minded spirits who didn’t mind his shy Midwestern ways and who seemed to love his vagabond prose. Together they laughed and loved and fucked and cried. It didn’t matter that they lived in the shadow of the ghetto, or that no one bought their paintings or published their words. It didn’t matter if they were black or white, gay or straight, penniless or just playing poor. Like the generations that came before them, the only thing that really mattered was that they were young and alive.
But that was then.
Now, with the smoke still rising from the rubble at ground zero and a specter of dread hanging in the air, it wasn’t so easy. Most of his friends were gone, scattered in the winds to the safety of the well-known bastions of the weird--Austin, Asheville, Portland--seeking somewhere easier on both the wallet and the soul.
But Jake was steadfast in his resolve. Just as his grandmother knew that long ago day that her travels were over, Jake too, knew where he belonged. He knew that on these streets he was home, that there was nowhere else in the world for him to be. He knew that city would soon rebound and regain its pulse, its rhythm. That it would rise up with a tenacious resilience and proclaim once again “FUCK YOU WORLD. THIS IS NEW YORK CITY.”
And when it did, he and the Smith-Corona would be there, and he would once again have something to say.
Written by: Ben Cook
Photograph by: Jen Smith