Friday, August 18, 2006

The Fascinating True(-ish) Tale! [Part One]

Here it is, as promised: the superhero origin story of Mr. Huggins.


Unfortunately, it's seemed to have taken on a life of its own and won't be confined to a single post. The second half on Monday, as well as my "Snakes on a Plane" experience and something a bit more personal, maybe.


Part the First: Olivetti

Jeremy was a quiet boy with keen eyes and the ability to conspicuously not say what everyone else was thinking. He did not blurt, as many children do, nor did he unleash any naive outbursts that cause grown-ups to so often blush and apologize. This quiet quality was highly regarded by adults and universally dismissed by peers. But the thing about Jeremy that made him special was that he noticed everything. Catalogued it mentally. Recorded and consumed it, made it part of his understanding. One Fourth of July, while Jeremy's friends and family were making noise and smoke with store-bought explosives, he sat on the park bench watching a sparkler burn down to its base in his smoke-stained fingers. Even when it burned him each time, he didn't yell or scowl; he barely registered the discomfort. He merely placed it on the cold stone seat next to him, and took another to the nearest adult to be lit. Then he returned to his place and studied it. He tried to memorize it, how the streaks of light danced and sputtered and died. Once in a while, he could almost anticipate how the tiny display would burn. No, not anticipate--he could see it. But only briefly, and even when it "happened," he didn't believe it. He was sensible.

Jeremy's head was filled with stories. Deep, epic stories with multitudes of characters and complex plots. Some of them were happy, a few were funny, many were sad. All were true. In his youth, he tried his hand at writing stories on paper, but his mind always seemed to outpace his young fingers. He got frustrated often, and rarely if ever finished a story he started.

On the day his life changed forever, he was walking down past the shops along Main Street, peering in windows. His favorite store was the used and antique book store. It was run by a old man in a rumpled brown suit. No one knew his name. To his face, he was called "sir," but otherwise he was known as "the book man."

One day, as Jeremy passed this favored store window, something new stopped him dead in his tracks. On a small desk in the window display sat a curious-looking typewriter. The red box gleamed. The keys looked delicate and graceful like black-booted centipedes' legs. Jeremy stared through the glass, leaning closer and closer until his forehead touched the sun-warmed glass. He couldn't take his eyes off of the machine. He didn't smile with mouth agape, like some boys who ogle baseball cards and comic books. Jeremy stared intently, brow slightly furrowed, lips pursed. He didn't understand why the typewriter fascinated him. But it captured his attention and would not release it until Jeremy realized that the book man was standing behind the table, staring back at him, lip curled slightly. Jeremy gasped, took a step back. The old man raised a gnarled hand to calm the boy, then pointed to the door. Jeremy's mind started to drift back to the parental admonitions about strangers, but the shining red of the typewriter in the window still held his eye. He walked into the musty, dusty book stall and over to the desk in the window.

The shopkeeper spoke first. "You like my little toy there?" The boy only nodded, never taking his eyes away from the device.

The old man scratched his chin and sighed. "Ah, mio Olivetti. It's a very special item. Very rare. But you can take a closer look, if you like. You seem like a smart boy, not a dumb pig like so many of the boys I see around these days. Go ahead. Here." He reached beneath the counter and pulled out a clean sheet of paper. Holding it out, he said, "Try it out."

Jeremy hesitated, then reached out and slowly took the sheet of paper from the wrinkled paw of the book man. He walked over to the typewriter and fed the sheet in easily.

The book man grunted. "Have you used one like this before?"

Jeremy stopped and thought for a moment. "Never. How did I know...?"

Behind him, the book man nodded. "Very good. Have a seat, and start typing."

Jeremy sat at the desk, his back to the window. He barely touched the keys, then froze. "I... I don't know what to type. I don't think I even know how."

The book man stood behind the counter with arms folded. "Place your fingers on the keys. Close your eyes, and take a deep breath. Then, without thinking, let your fingers type."

Uneasy and confused, Jeremy did as the book man said. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and then started tapping.

The tapping of his fingers on the keys started simply, then grew more complex. There were crossovers, spaces, backspaces. The small fingers flew feverishly over the shiny black keys, pressing letter after letter. His breath quickened, his heart started to race. Jeremy opened his eyes and pulled away from the typewriter.

On the page, almost full now, was a gobbledygook of letters and symbols. It was all nonsense. After a while, though, it became words.

Black car.

Sign coat.

Yellow balloon dog icecream.

The boy stood, pulled the sheet out of the typewriter, and quickly walked over to the counter, handing the sheet to the old man. "Thank you," he said quietly, then turned and almost ran out of the store, his face vanilla-white.

The book man looked down at the wrinkled paper and sighed. Nonsense. Then, he saw something flash by the shop window. A Cadillac, the color of midnight. A few seconds later, a large man in a sandwich-board sign walked by, passing out fliers for the new deli opening up down the block. Walking opposite of him was a woman walking her dog and holding the hand of her daughter.

The little girl ate an ice cream cone, as a yellow balloon hovered above her, tied to her wrist.

The book man smiled. Good, he thought to himself.


The incident in the book stall stayed in Jeremy's mind for several days, but soon it was forgotten, as late summer gave way to early fall, and school activities quickly filled the boy's mind.

A few weeks later, Jeremy's birthday arrived. This year, it was on a Saturday, the best day for a birthday to be on. He got up and went downstairs for breakfast, when he saw his mother sitting at the kitchen table with a confused look on her face. In front of her was a stained, yellowed cardboard box with a red bow on it and an envelope that read, "J. Huggins, for his birthday."

"Jeremy, do you know what this is, or who it's from?"

The boy shrugged, and started to open the box. His mother said, "No, sir. Card first. You know how this works."

Jeremy opened the envelope and removed a folded sheet of white paper. Written in the shaky hand of old age were the words, "Close your eyes, take a breath, and type."

The boy dropped the letter on the table. His mother, now worried, picked it up and read. "I don't understand, Jeremy. What does this mean? Who is it from?"

The boy opened the old cardboard box that had been decorated with a single bow. Inside was the typewriter that had bewitched him so.

His mother was now pacing. "Jeremy, explain this to me right now!"

He shrugged. "The book man. I saw it in his shop. He let me try it out."

His mother stopped. "When did this happen?"

Jeremy told his mother about his walk home from school that fateful day--excluding the troubling typing experience. At the end of the tale, she said, "Well, it's just too much. It's not right for some strange old man to give a little boy such an expensive gift. Don't take it out of that box--we're sending it back."

Jeremy acted disappointed, but a small part of him was relieved. There was something about that device that he didn't understand, didn't trust.

Unfortunately, the typewriter would not be shrugged off so easily. When Jeremy's parents drove over to the bookshop, it was competely emptied. Their inquiries found no forwarding address, either. The book man and his wares had vanished, and all that was left of him was a red typewriter given to a very special little boy.

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