I'm typing, "If it is to be, it is up to me," my fingers furiously fumbling over the keys of the Royal typewriter in my ninth grade Personal Use Typing class. Mrs. Statchel, my little world's equivalent of a Nazi SS officer, focuses her disdain on me with laser beam intensity, her cat-lady glasses dangling from the chain draped around her neck. Being the third Wittkop male to find himself in one of Statchel's P.U.T. classes hadn't helped matters. The second Wittkop male, my brother Bill; was, at least in his mind, the equivalent of James Dean. That legacy, along with the splint on my right thumb, had not endeared me with Col. Statchel. "Go ahead, stone me to death with Royal typewriters! Throw in an old heavy Underwood, just for good measure!"- my thoughts as I wished for relief from this unpleasant state of affairs of my own making.
My mother had advised me to take Personal Use Typing, extolling the merit of this adroit discipline. Of course she would, my mother had been an executive secretary. Her fingers could gracefully glide across the glass keys of her ancient Underwood, effortlessly pumping out word after word. I had agreed with my mother's reasoning, figuring there couldn't be a better place to meet chicks...
It's fair to say I've been extracting revenge on machinery ever since, in my mind all of it being kin to that cursed typewriter. I am not by nature a competitive person, so I don't consider my crusade a man vs. machine struggle. It's much more primal, a love/hate relationship that began long before attending summer school to improve my failing grade in Personal Use Typing.
My father was particularly good at keeping me busy, so I often found myself on the business end of our reel type lawn mower. Two bucks to cut the Green's front yard, another three bucks for the rear yard. I had to cut the lawn of the widow across the street from the Green's for free, I still feel gratitude for the modest size of her yard. The Willifer's, the Harris', and several more who's names time has erased. That old reel mower never needed anything more than an occasional squirt of oil. Then came the Sears gas powered lawn mower! Wow! What a great invention, I could breeze through my tasks with a fraction of the effort. But at a cost, this convenience came with the price of maintenance. Change the oil, clean the air filter, sharpen the blade, plus the obligatory squirt of oil.
From the sweat of my brow came fabulous wealth. This is how I secured my first vehicle. Brother Bill had borrowed $40, a princely sum at the time. The debt was forgiven in exchange for his '59 Volkswagon Van (with a bad engine). A VW "how to" book was purchased and within weeks the engine was swapped out and I had taken to modifying the interior. Of course I was still over a year away from getting my drivers learners permit, however this fact didn't dampen the honeymoon. One night I got a little too brave. While my parents were out for the evening, I decided to take the van for a spin. This was another "Wow!" moment. Machinery provided more than just the challenge of repair and modification. They provide freedom and mobility!
By the time I had adequately ripened to receive my learners permit the van had been traded off for a '63 VW Beetle. In comparison to the van, it seemed like a rocket ship. The union of automobile and drivers license cemented my love affair with machinery. I had even come to terms with maintenance, just as the love struck ignores the faults of any object of desire. Being a teen aged boy I was well practiced at ignoring faults, especially my own, and had a crush on every female I encountered (my mother and Mrs. Statchel being the exceptions). First the throttle cable broke. Then the clutch cable. Exhaust leaks, oil leaks, brakes, flat tires. Reality being the harsh schoolmarm, I had to steel my resolve. I was in this for the long haul, especially when I saw the ad in the newspaper for the MGB.
As I was navigating my way into Irvington, to investigate this B series car of the Morris Garage marque, I was already envisioning myself sporting dark sunglasses. The wind trying its best to outdo my Odell hair trainer. Girls flirting with me, just on the outside chance they might get to go motoring in such a magnificent vehicle. It is not easy living with the knowledge that Alexander Pope was writing about me when he penned, "for fools rush in where angles fear to tread"
So a fool I have been, for 45+ years, loving machines until I hate them. Yet, I find comfort in this perverse relationship; knowing I will never relent, never retire. I will go to my grave, confident in the knowledge that no machine in my care was allowed to shirk it's duty, having sworn to make the infernal things fulfill the purpose of their existence.
I often think about how many different paths my life could have taken, where I might be now and what other type of machinery I would be cursing under my breath. I would trade the automobile for nuclear submarines, or the M1 Abrams tank. But regardless of how fascinating these other objects of desire might be initially, at some point the truth would be found out. They all share the machine equivalent of DNA with a Royal typewriter. Which is why, after all these years, I feel no remorse for throwing that anonymous iceball at Mrs. Statchel's Cadillac.