He walked down to the street to throw his typewriter into the ocean. There was no point in using it anymore. At one point on the walk, he had said to himself that there was no point in anything anymore, but then retracted his statement because he was sure there was at least one or two more things in his life that would require purpose, he just hadn’t found them yet.
The IBM Selectric weighed 22 pounds, so the four-block walk to the sea wasn’t easy, and as he passed convenience stores and beachfront restaurants, beads of sweat sloped down his forehead. When he finally made it to the stairs that led down to the sand, he stopped and rested on a green bench surrounded by the filters of hand rolled joints, crushed out cigarette butts, and candy wrappers. He breathed deep and thought about lighting a cigarette, but then stopped himself, because maybe the reason the walk had been so difficult in the first place was the fact that he smoked.
The idea had come to him three hours into his day. He had woken up at noon, and spent half an hour sitting in bed thinking about the best way to get up and get out of bed. Sometimes, it was more than just moving your limbs, and this had been one of those days where his body didn’t seem to want to follow simple commands like, “move arm,” and, “swing feet onto the floor.” So he had stared at the ceiling and yawned and hidden his head under the pillow and checked his phone while wracking his mind for something that would motivate him.
Having a cigarette outside?
Nothing seemed to work, even though the weather was nice and his bank account was sufficient enough to support some kind of daily activity. Eventually, through no explainable reasoning, he got out of bed and walked into the small kitchen to turn the kettle on.
He made coffee, brushed his teeth, went outside and had two cigarettes and then headed back inside to sit down at his desk and think further about what to do with his day.
He looked at the piece of paper that he’d rolled into the typewriter the previous evening. He’d started a short story, but after a half-hour of staring at the page, and lines that he had written, nothing more had come. That was how it had been recently; lots of half starts and lots of beginnings that seemed to stall out after a few paragraphs. As someone who wrote often enough, he knew that this sometimes happened, and that the best thing to do was either wait it out and hope that some better idea would come along, or to just power on through and write regardless. Something would come up, because something always came up. His creative mind was a well that would never dry up, regardless of whether or not he occasionally had to replace the bucket that he used to fetch the water.
As he sipped his coffee, he stared down at the completed lines in an attempt to interrogate them into giving him the next sentence. Nothing moved on the page, and there was no answer that sparked up in the back of his mind.
Sometimes when this happened, he would go out for a long walk and tour the bookstores downtown for some inspiration. There was a power in thumbing through all of those completed pages, seeing the final result, and seeing someone else’s inspiration made manifest. With that in mind, he finished his coffee, grabbed his coat, and walked out into the world.
Bookstore number one was on the second floor an old brick building, where you’d walk up a narrow staircase into a sizeable open space that had the books all laid out on tables. The downstairs floor was a gym. He browsed the tables for books that he had read so that he could pick them up, look through it in its entirety and think to himself, “ah, yes, I don’t need to read this one, because I have already seen what is on all of these pages.” It was an interesting tick based on a recurring dream he had where he was stuck in a bookstore or a library, and realized that there was no possible way that he would ever read every single book within it, and that even if the book that would change his life for the best was located somewhere on the shelves, there was a chance that he would never reach it, never find it, because he would be off in some other section, or buying books that weren’t the right books. The calm gathered from leafing through something that he had already read countered this.
He bought a cheap detective novel that fit into the pocket of his overcoat, the kind of hard-boiled narrative that he hadn’t read much of since high school. Then he walked out into the street, lit a cigarette, and thumbed to the first page:
Days and dames, they were all the same when the rent was past due, and a good and easy case couldn’t be found. I was drinking a Tom Collins at the Roscoe Country Club and thinking about how my luck had been so bad for so long that maybe there really wasn’t much in this detective game to write home about.
The writing seemed like par for the course for the kind of novel it was. He doubted if he would keep reading it once he got home. It would probably sit on a shelf, or on top of the fridge for months before he found his way back to it.
The second store was the largest used book dealer in the city, and it had every conceivable genre and style of literature that someone could want to go scrounging for. Plenty of days he had poured over the shelves for hours, searching for a new direction that would kick his mind down the road to the next sentence. Today, he started in the “K” subsection of Fiction, and looked for something by Kundera. There was the ones he had already read, and nothing that he hadn’t yet had come in to the shop.
As he walked on down through the stacks, occasionally pulling out a title that caught his eye, or a spine emboldened with an interesting typeface, he had a moment of scope; there were so many books, and so many authors. It was just like his dream, only now his fear was not that he would never read all of the books by all of the authors, but that all of his own writing was useless, because what could be the end result but a book that was lost among all of the stacks? In this bookstore were thousands of books by all kinds of different writers, and all of them at one point or another thought that their work was special and unique, and that the writing they were doing was being done by the only person who could do it, and that their style was so special that of course their work would have to stand out. In the end though, didn’t it all end up in the discount bin? Did all of the months and months of research, writing, editing, re-writing, and re-editing come to nothing but a second printing (if they were lucky) with a cracked spine and coffee spills on the pages left to rot in the 99 cent tub of a second hand bookstore?
There was nothing here to motivate him, only defeat, and a knowledge that was slowly gaining power that said that anything he wrote was doomed to end up in the same places; like empty beer cans, cigarette butts, or anything else that you threw away.
What was the point in going home and writing? What was the point in continuing on with the work, if the work built nothing? Other professionals and trades didn’t seem to struggle with this. Those that built buildings got to see the buildings. Those who wrote books would one day hopefully hold them in their hands, but like a child that squanders all of it’s potential in front of the eyes of their caring parents, that book would end up as a disappointment like all of the others.
There were victorious cases of course, but among the shelves that he looked at now, their numbers were slim.
He bought nothing, left the store in a mild panic, stood outside on the sidewalk and smoked two cigarettes and watched a pair of crows tear apart a Chinese food take-out box.
He skipped going to the third bookstore, there seemed no point in it now. He walked home at a brisk pace, his mind lost in the thought he had had among the stacks. He noticed nothing.
When he got home, he sat down in front of his typewriter, and the words that stared back at him know, which before were like a puzzle that needed to be solved, were now like the grounds of coffee that clung to the side of the sink; something present and noticeable that needed to be washed away. He pulled the page out, crumpled it into a ball, and threw it over his shoulder. Then he went underneath the desk and unplugged the typewriter itself. The ocean was four blocks away, and the typewriter was taking up space on his desk.
He lifted himself up off the bench where he sat, picked up the typewriter and continued down the stairs to the sand. As he walked to the water, he wondered to himself how far he needed to throw it to actually make the typewriter sink out of sight. There was no point in just dropping it into the water and walking away, as it would just sit on the surf. The tide had carried heavier things in and out in its time, and he wanted to make sure of the demise of the thing he had once shackled himself to in the hopes of a literary career.
It was hard work lifting the Selectric above his head to give it a good throw, and as he lifted it, he thought to himself how it would have been easier to have dropped it off a dock somewhere in the harbor, but there were always people in the harbor, and the last thing he wanted was someone to report him for dumping something in the ocean.
He heaved with all his might, and the typewriter splashed into the water a few meters away and sunk down out of sight. He lit a cigarette and watched the waves, and felt a sense of relief, mingled with a sense that his life was open now. He would have to do something different, and that something could be anything, just as long as it wasn’t something that died on the shelf, and was instead something concrete and substantial. His thoughts drifted as he exhaled a lungful of Camel Light.
A nudge at his foot brought him out of his reflection. His typewriter had been brought back in by the waves, and was clinging to the toe of his boot like a kitten asking for food. The tide must have been coming in. He looked down at it, at the keys that he had loved to hit when things were going well; it had felt like he was composing a symphony.
He reached down and picked up the typewriter and brushed some sand off of the top of it. Water streamed out of the bottom through all of the mechanics; there was no way it would work now, the electronics would be fried. It was dead weight even if he wanted to take it home.
Still, as he looked at the keys, he felt a kinship with the machine, something that he had forced himself to ignore on the walk over. There was a connection between him, the artist, and the thing that made the art manifest.
He walked back to his apartment with the typewriter over his shoulder. As he got inside he looked all around at the shelves in his place, all filled with books that he had read and would read. At some point, he realized that all of the authors of these books must have felt the same thing he had felt now. They must have written first paragraphs and stared down at them and felt all the futility in the world bearing down on them. There was no way that he should be different.
He let the typewriter sit on his desk and dry for a week before he attempted to plug it in. He said to himself that if the beast didn’t rear its head when he pushed the “on” button, then it would be enough of a sign for him to stop. He had tried, he had given himself a second chance, and it was up now to the fates to decide if that second chance had been in vain or not.
He pushed the power button, and the carriage whirred to life and snapped into place at the start of the indent. He rolled in the crumpled page he’d retrieved from the floor, and began to type.