Monday, November 28, 2005
THE WRITING MACHINE
It was pathetic to see my best friend lose his senses, laughing, crying, cursing all at the same time. And to think that I used to envy his flair for writing stories, especially when he received the Cartland Award, making him richer by several hundred thousands of dollars and earning the distinction of being called a Novel Laureate. What a shame to see his ragged unkempt appearance, his blank stare, his hopeless mental condition.
I can't imagine that it could happen to Maurice, of all people, he was the type of person that fights back, not mildly but fiercely, with each setback. He was a paragon for courage and his friends, particularly Eddie and I, admired him for that trait. Maurice was our fashion model for his distinct sartorial taste. Well, time changes everything and as I see it, Maurice fell from his high perch with a loud thud and it was a pitiful sight indeed.
We grew up together, Maurice, Eddie and I attended the same elementary school in our old hometown in Oklahoma. We were inseparable as far as friendship is concerned hence we were called the Three Eggs of Enid. Nobody dared touch any of us lest he was willing to face the ire of the other two. It was an ‘all for one and one for all' motto until the end of time, at least for Eddie and Maurice.
After graduating from high school, Eddie left for California to pursue computer studies in CalPoly and avail of the scholarship he won in a math quiz show. Maurice enrolled at Texas Tech to get a journalism degree, also under scholarship. They were bright boys and I, with my average brain, was left alone to help my father tend our modest grocery. Pop said that he couldn't afford the exorbitant college tuition and I had to stop schooling until funds come in.
But lady luck smiled on good old me. With the influence of the mayor, who happened to be a distant uncle, the editor of the local daily hired me as an apprentice Proof Reader with the agreement that I continue with my education. Jumping with joy, I pledged to my father and to the mayor as well that I would exert more than the required effort to fulfill my part of the deal.
Working at day and studying journalism at night left me no time for gallivanting although I had no regrets for I wouldn’t enjoy parties without my friends, anyway. We regularly communicated by letters though sometimes I received phone calls from either of them for good news that could not wait. There was an instance when I was awakened by the ringing phone in the dead of the night with Maurice on the other end to inform me of his first big story that was to appear in the coming issue of Life International.
Not to be outdone, I heard from Eddie afterwards about the trophy he won for his innovative entry on enhancing the micro computer to include the function of a fax machine. A price of five hundred dollars went with it and he promised to keep half of his prize for the summer vacation when the three of us could spend it. I was too excited for comfort and the three month wait seemed to be years.
I had learned a lot with my job although it was not really a great achievement for me. Proof reading, substituting for the photographer, color stripping, not a thing to crow about. Most of my messages to my buddies contained complaints like difficulty to cope in school, fatigue from the job, the boring weekend chore in the grocery. And their reply, particularly Maurice's, would always be an admonition to persevere.
The first summer vacation during our college days was the most memorable. Eddie brought home his portable micro computer which could function as a fax machine when connected to the phone line and, with a short antenna, it could receive all channels of the local TV stations. How the other teeners envied our group when we watched the football games under our favorite elm tree in our backyard, which used to be our hangout. Eddie's portable was a wonder even to the elders for our town was a good century behind in technological progress.
The fame and fortune of the Three Eggs of Enid was just starting. The Enid Bulletin came out with a tribute article to a beloved son, that's Maurice, for his achievements in the literary field. The local population got to know of his three stories that were published in Life International and the solitary short story in the prestigious Weekly Shorts magazine. Another smile from lady luck came our way when his first story in Life International won the Greenhorn Medal, an award to inspire new writers. Maurice couldn't contain his jubilation when he was handed the cheque for two thousand dollars as part of the award.
I was just a rider, similar to a wooden popsicle stick that goes wherever the flow of water dictates it to go, but I tried not to show my envy. We had a secret pact before we graduated in high school. In fact, we made the oath right after receiving the good results of the SAT. It was agreed upon, by the three of us, that we would try our best to achieve progress for ourselves in whatever field we are in and to later on share the bounty with our town mates. What a heroic ideology.
But that pact remained in full effect and I felt ashamed every time the other two eggs attained something. Maurice had that nice way of consoling people and I would be relieved whenever he would say "You are not stagnating, you're just slow but steady." Perseverance was my only recourse and our friendship was my only happiness in life. It didn't occur to me that Maurice would be proven right someday.
The first summer ended and the following summers seemed too fast to grasp. Before I knew it, I was promoted to the position of Copy Writer, then to Associate Editor for social events at Enid Bulletin when Eddie came back to town, not to congratulate me, but to settle for good without finishing his college course. Maurice followed suit after a semester and it was the first time they heard my reprimands regarding a bad decision they made.
Eddie poured all his concentration in the lab for he enjoyed practical application that caused him to fail in his elective subjects. His scholarship was suspended after three years of free tuition hence he had decided to quit. He put up a sort of a computer shop in their garage and advertised in the Enid Bulletin for tutorials, technical assistance and computer repair. I was shaking my head as I did the layout of his ad, for who was in his right senses to put up a computer business in a town of a thousand people with only five computers for the electronic population.
Maurice, for his part, was doing good at his writing and money kept coming in from the publishers. He got bored with Texas Tech's educational system and came back with a portable Word Processor of his own and discarded the old manual typewriter. Being an undergraduate didn't matter to Maurice for fame seemed to chase him. His first novel was a hit and it stayed in the best seller chart for two months.
It took me six years to finish the four-year Journalism course due to my job at Enid Bulletin. But I was quite happy to present my diploma to my very proud Pop, to the mayor and also to the two eggs. To add luster to my celebration, Mr. Pete De Rose, the Enid Bulletin's kind owner, congratulated me with a corresponding promotion to full editor. At last, I had something to show for myself and my feeling of inferiority towards Maurice and Eddie faded away.
After my graduation party, I hosted an exclusive celebration for the three of us. A six-pack of Corona beer proved not enough for Maurice was getting to be a drinker. He related that he consumes a six-packer everyday, all by his lonesome. As usual, Eddie stopped drinking after the first bottle and just contributed to the conversation. It was very much like our graduation party in high school and the only difference was our age, unlike before when we were still boys.
The secret celebration became a habit and we made it a point to meet at least once a week and drink to our hearts' delight. We seldom saw each other during weekdays for we were so busy with our careers. The responsibilities of my new post as an editor left me no time for socializing. I normally got home at around nine and be up at early dawn the next day to supervise the distribution of the newspaper. It was taxing but I had no complaints simply because I enjoyed my job.
Eddie was flourishing with his computer shop. He was able to purchase an old house which he converted to an office and he hired his third employee thereafter. With the technology boom, opportunities multiplied and clients were coming in from all directions. Enid High School named Eddie as a technical consultant with no stipend but the honor was enough for money was never a problem for him.
Maurice just released his tenth book, five of which were best-sellers, and like us, he had not much time to spend. Aside from writing books, he needed to send stories to four magazines, including the reputable Weekly Shorts. As he confided to us, in one of our trysts, ideas were in abundance but he couldn't cope with writing. Writers are paid by the word and the longer the story, the higher the pay. He joked that if his WordPro could digest all his plots and write a story on their own, he could produce one book every month.
Eddie, being a computer nerd of some kind, enjoyed talking shop, his shop that is. Hearing computerese tickled his spines and one may have a hard time suppressing the topic. When Eddie heard that joke, the conversation instantly transformed to high tech. Actually, it was my idea. Eddie could make an AI computer, the thing they call state of the art Artificial Intelligence that could solve Maurice's problem.
The joke turned out to be not a joke at all when Eddie came with a caseless laptop computer three months later. I could see the semicon chips inside and I didn't have the nerve to try it. Same with Maurice. However, Eddie invoked his software and showed us what it could do. He typed in "Romeo and Juliet in a romantic mood" and after minutes of whirring and whizzing, half a page of text was produced. Although the grammar was not perfect and the paragraphing was lousy, it was enough to amaze us.
Eddie was a perfectionist and he spent a year to develop a tailor-made word processor for Maurice. To counter the slow processing with the software, Eddie converted the logic into firmware using the latest technology of laser conduction. Too technical for me but the most I could get of it was - the speed of data transfer would be in the vicinity of the speed of light. So, it wasn't an ordinary computer at all because it didn't have semicon chips that uses electric impulse to process information.
The wonder machine required just a pair of NiCad battery that would automatically recharge when plugged in the ordinary 110-socket. What's more? It was fitted with a photovoltaic cell which takes over the power supply when exposed to sunlight, or any light as explained by Eddie. So, Maurice could use it anywhere he may be. I found it too good to be true and what's wonderful was - it was real.
The computer which was smaller than a laptop could compose a page of text in two seconds flat by analyzing the plot in just one sentence of input. The user would be given five styles to choose from and a series of variation could be requested in case the five choices were not good enough. The menu permitted the user to include the continuity factor and all Maurice needed was to input the outlines one by one. It was just like working with a synopsis and the computer takes it from there.
Eddie named it PWM, short for Personal Writing Machine and although it looked complicated to me, Maurice was able to use it without any supervision before the time we called it a night. The menu was user friendly and one need not be computer literate to operate it. Although it wasn't really perfect, for Maurice would need to do some editing to improve the text, the PWM was indeed the wonder machine for a writer.
Everybody was euphoric except me, not because I was jealous. The two eggs might have forgotten that I was also a writer and the PWM would be a big help, too, but honestly, it didn't occur in my mind to ask for one from Eddie. Besides, I am no technology freak and there never was an instance in my life that I became dependent on a machine. I could feel anxiety and there's a trace of fear lurking in my heart. For what reason, I didn't know then.
Our session the following week was spent in conversations about the PWM. Maurice brought the unedited draft of his first book and he was bragging that the publisher would like it. True to his word, it was published after two months and to Eddie's delight, Maurice paid him the amount of twenty percent from the royalties, not only of the book but also with the short stories that came out in four magazines.
The pressure on Maurice was eased out by the PWM, giving him more time to spend with us. Likewise with Eddie, he learned how to slow down, his steady income from Maurice and the prosperous business had freed himself from the tedious work schedule. Left with no alternative, I implemented a clear cut procedure in our office and even hired more people to lessen my load. Our friendship deepened due to the moments we spent with each other, the weekly meetings became every other night.
The PWM was a real blessing from heaven that changed the direction in life of the two eggs. However, there were times when Maurice would complain to Eddie about a malfunction. Sometimes, it would be the fuse or a clogged spring and other times it would be a complex problem concerning the circuitry. But Eddie's prowess on the matter surfaced at the call of challenge and one day would be long enough for the repair.
There was an instance when Eddie fixed the chips before my very eyes and I was astounded with his skills. He showed perfect precision, using a magnifying lens and a laser solder, in re-attaching a loose connection. The terminal, if that's what they call it, was so tiny and there were times, until now, that I still wonder how Eddie was able to repair it.
As in any normal story about boys, no one can deny the fact that girls could make it more interesting. Our new hiree in the publication caught my fancy and before I knew it, she had already accepted my half-hearted proposal. The guys were jubilant upon learning of my new horizon for they admitted that we were getting old. But to me, age didn't matter and twenty six is not really that too old. Besides, no one can question the heart as I learned later that I really loved her.
Elizabeth was five years younger than I but she didn't look her age. Her broad shoulders, blond hair and blue eyes made her look mature, but not old, not to mention her ample bosom which I admit was the primary factor that attracted me. I sometimes would bring Elizabeth to our nightly meetings and her company livened up the conversation. I had a feeling that the two eggs were in that stage of being 'girl happy' although they didn't have the courage to look for their own partners.
I was really happy that my two friends accepted Elizabeth, not only as my girlfriend but as one of the members of the group. We even joked that we can now be called the Three Eggs and the Salami to the delight of the boys and to the chagrin of Elizabeth. Whenever with the group, I tried to avoid being showy of our intimate relationship but Elizabeth was that type of girl who wanted the world to know of our situation. I was intimidated that the two eggs might get an
impression that I was bragging although my paranoia had really no basis at all.
After a year of going steady, we decided to settle down and the two eggs were agog with the news. I could feel their excitement and they both confessed that they wanted to follow my footsteps soon. But I didn't believe them. They might have the interest but they didn't have the guts to face women. Eddie was turning into a nerd and his inferiority complex with the opposite gender was plainly obvious. With Maurice, except for his classy dressing style, his weird conversational topics would surely turn off any normal female species. They said they were trying but I simply didn't believe any of them.
We had the last session a week before my wedding where the two eggs caught me by surprise. Inside Eddie's den, where we normally met, lay a semi nude girl with a teasing smile on her face. I immediately reckoned that she was one of those girls for hire that guys use for stag parties. I then realized that we will be having a stag party to bid goodbye to my bachelorhood.
I could sense the mischief in their eyes as Maurice handed me a can of beer. Another surprise that evening was the fact that Eddie's face looked so purple as if his blood vessels would explode any moment. He boasted that they started drinking ahead and they had already three cans each for a score, an amazing feat for a teetotaler like Eddie.
The girl remained in the center of the den, just lying and smiling once in a while, like an Egyptian goddess sans the snake. After my second beer, Eddie dimmed the lights and the girl started to make movements while Maurice was turning on the soft music. I tried to ignore her at first but when she took off her upper clothing, my eyes were transfixed on her hazy frontal landscape. The two eggs began applauding and I, with pretense, was forced to join the fun. It was really fun for someone to see a girl seduce three men, acting like boys, with her teasing acts but not fun for a guy who was about to get married in a few days.
It took some time before she took off everything and started swaying in front of us. Her flimsy but shiny pubic hair, I had the impression that it was shaven, failed to totally cover what it was supposed to hide. Her round buttocks could certainly arouse the animal instinct of the male species, as the reactions of Eddie proved when he touched her behind. I could feel that Maurice wanted to get in the act but he was somehow abashed and just contented himself with his ogling and cajoling.
The girl was facing me now, Maurice at her side, and Eddie was busy with her back. In a flash, she turned her back to me which caused Eddie's hand to touch, perhaps without intention, her more vital parts located in the foreside. I noticed the change in Eddie's facial expression and I was sure that he was feeling ecstatic with the experience. The girl lowered her body but Eddie's hand seemed stuck in her groin and her parting thighs gave way to the widening of the horizon, permitting Eddie's hand to get deeper.
I could almost hear the breathing of the two eggs or maybe it included my own. Maurice and I became the silent audience, or spectator you might say, and Eddie's other hand began to move, too. It was a night of revelation for me to see the shy Eddie shed his timidity with the weaker sex. It was a terrible mistake on my part when I urged Eddie to get her inside his room for a more intimate activity to bring out the machismo in him. It was just a joke that Maurice seconded but taken seriously by Eddie.
We were more excited than Eddie when they left the den for the bedroom. I could not talk and all Maurice could do was just to wink on me. We acted like kids in an elementary class when the teacher's boyfriend dropped by. At first, there was no sound in the room, neither in the den. Maurice and I were transformed into mimes and our hands and eyes did the talking. It was all dirty talk intended for Eddie who was by then having the delight of his life considering that we were all virgin forests in the logging trade.
Maurice was signing to me that Eddie was surely having a grand time with the girl and he wanted to be next. I tried to brush it aside for my excitement was already waning and I was feeling uncomfortable with the situation. But Maurice was serious to have sex with the cheap girl when he repeated his hand signals. I was forced to nod when we heard the girl's giggles.
The unexpected happened when the giggles changed into moans followed by a deafening scream. The girl, still in her birthday attire, came out of the room to summon our help. Eddie collapsed from I don't know what and when I regained my composure, we were in the hospital, at the door of the Intensive Care waiting for the doctor's pronouncement. No pun intended, Maurice and I seemed to continue with our playing mimes although it was a different act than before, tragedy and not romance.
I was terribly upset by what had happened. To think that it all started as a joke and Eddie lay in a coma until my wedding day. A very memorable moment turned sour but Elizabeth understood my mood. We skipped the wedding dance and other ceremonies such as the throwing of the bouquet and the releasing of the doves. The guests left early and we proceeded to the hospital, Maurice, Elizabeth, and me. We greeted Eddie even if he could not hear us and pretended that everybody was happy for the occasion.
Instead of the usual honeymoon, we just spent the night in the hospital corridors, fronting the ICU. Our agony did not last long when before midnight, the doctor informed us that Eddie had passed away. It was a nightmare for the three of us and I believed the saying that "some good things never last." Fortunately for me, Elizabeth and the people in the office understood my predicament. There was no protest when I requested for a one week vacation to spend it at Eddie's den with Maurice, leaving my brand new wife all alone at home.
Life seemed to stop for Maurice and me. We just stayed in Eddie's house cum office and the seven days served our purpose. The pain was gone when I went home to my understanding and consoling wife and I proved ready to pick up the pieces from thereon. Maurice pledged to carry on with his life without Eddie, to continue with his career and attain a higher peak which Eddie would certainly be proud of.
We were surprised to find out that Eddie made a will in our name, not beneficiaries though, but to help out in taking care of everything. The two eggs left, that's Maurice and me, would supervise the dissolution of Eddie's assets and we had to hire the best accountant in town to determine the distribution of the resources. The employees were given sufficient separation pay and we auctioned all the assets including the house itself. We personally delivered the proceeds to Eddie's mother.
It was just a matter of weeks after selling Eddie's house when Maurice knocked on our door. The PWM was malfunctioning and some of the keys wouldn't work. Even without computer knowledge, I tried my hand to determine the problem. It seemed to me that some of the keys were stuck up and the dirt in the spring might be causing the problem.
My hunch was bolstered when Elizabeth came around. She worked as a typist, handling the ordinary word processor in the office, and she suggested that we use a spray on it to unclog the keyboard springs of the accumulated dirt. We went to the office to borrow the spray and voila, it worked wonders on the keyboard. Maurice was very thankful and with what happened, my fears escalated to a scary proportion.
Elizabeth was four months on the way with our first baby when Maurice encountered another problem with his writing machine. The monitor gave out different hues and the style it presented looked jumbled and useless. The moment I saw it, I then knew that it needed professional help. I accompanied Maurice to the computer shop in the nearby city but the technician wouldn't touch the weird-looking machine. We were advised to seek assistance from the manufacturer.
Maurice was forced to discard of the PWM for the meantime and used his old word processor instead. It gave him a feeling of typing on an antiquated equipment and his skills in writing was greatly affected. He had been too dependent on the convenience of Eddie's writing machine and I noticed that he was beginning to act strange. I knew that I had to do something and with the PWM in my hands, Elizabeth accompanied me to Tulsa to consult an acquaintance who worked with IBM.
It so happened that James, her childhood friend, was only a salesman and it would need a series of referrals and recommendations. I left the writing machine in the care of this guy and he promised to get results within a week. Back in Enid, Maurice was only too glad to see some light at the end of the tunnel. He was eager to meet James and the promised technician. But I was afraid that the light at the end of the tunnel might be a rushing train.
Two weeks passed and we were face to face with a guy named Dan, supposedly a computer wizard. After a light dinner at Sizzler's, we proceeded to Lights & Sounds Bar for some drinks where Dan informed us of his prognosis. The maker of the PWM employed the state-of-the-art technology of Laser Conduction using the fibre optics type of chips and the data storage installed was an Optical Disk. I already knew all of those things, as explained by Eddie before, and I had to interrupt his technical litany for it would be useless to Maurice. What we needed was a promise, even an empty one.
But Dan continued and as far as I could gather, the so-called fibre optics doesn't use electricity but instead utilizes light in sending the signals. It explains the unimaginable speed of processing and together with the Optical Disk, where the dictionary and theme patterns were stored, the design was perfect. All the data that Eddie saved in the Optical Disk was still there and it will remain intact for a lifetime because that particular technology uses the etching method which made the contents permanent.
After the high tech lecture, Dan expounded on the malfunction. There was a crack in the LaserCon chip and a two-month full time work on it would be an understatement. Maurice was agape, showing his disgust but I felt some sort of relief to realize that there was hope. Dan added that if only we could find the schematic diagram, the repair period would be a lot shorter. Maurice knew that the blueprint existed but we had already discarded everything when we had dissolved Eddie's company.
We had no choice but to relinquish the custody of the PWM to Dan and pinned our hopes on him. Maurice tried to console himself by saying that months of waiting was better than a lifetime of agony for him. Elizabeth and I agreed without any hesitation and to further lessen his grief, James promised to inform us of the development and that Dan was just being pessimistic.
After thanking Dan and James for the meeting, the two hour trip back home seemed a long time with the prevailing silence inside the car. Maurice chain smoked and I felt irritated although I was able to control my temper. Elizabeth acted like a dummy beside me and the tension in the air affected my driving. It proved to be the longest trip in my life and somehow I survived the siege of anxiety.
With a sigh of relief, we reached home with no untoward incident although I felt my bones stiff as a frozen bologna. There was no talk, not even a "ba-bye" was heard from Maurice when he stepped out of the car. He went straight inside his house as I waited another minute for his courteous farewell that didn't come. I was scared as hell to realize that a gap between Maurice and me was developing.
Days passed with no sign of Maurice. It seemed that he had become a hermit and Elizabeth was prodding me to pay him a visit. For old time's sake I relented and the two of us dropped by one evening with a six-pack and some TV dinners. A haggard Maurice let us in and without a word, gently got the six-pack from my hand and started guzzling the beer with gusto. While Elizabeth was heating the TV dinner in the microwave, I started a conversation that would ease the budding tension in my veins.
Maurice was enthusiastic at first but I noticed that his interest was slowly waning especially when the talk strayed to his awards and skills in writing. He appeared to be acting strange, always staring in the window or in the ceiling and he had lost his mannerism of gesturing with his hands when he talked. He never said anything about his latest works which was unusual and when I asked him about his contributions to the magazines, he just shrugged his shoulders.
When the beer was consumed, he had four and I had two, he asked me if I wanted to hear about his newest novel. As was my habit, I said yes and that was when he started to cry. He was sobbing in the presence of Elizabeth which was unthinkable of him. He cried for about a minute before he explained. The writing machine ruined his life for he had become too dependent on it and that he had seemed to have lost his skills in composing. His new word processor had nothing to show for all his ideas were wasted in drafts that wouldn’t pass even for an elementary theme writing.
He asked for my advice on what to do for he had a lot to lose. He couldn't afford to stagnate and waste his high stature in the literary field. But what could I say except to console him and affirm my belief in his skills and talents. I thought the evening closed on a good note when he gave out a wry smile, to both Elizabeth and me, as we left his place. That was last week and today it proved me wrong.
My knees were shaking as we entered the asylum where Maurice was confined. The dimly lit corridor seemed to be a mile long and eternity passed many times before we reached his room. It was a shock to see Maurice with that untidy look, messy hair, large eyebags, thin arms and torn shirt. I wasn't able to hold my tears when Maurice started to smile and cry at the same time, shouting Eddie's name, cursing the heavens, cursing Eddie, cursing me! He was in isolation for he had gone violent as evidenced by the bruises in his hands.
Sadly, the pregnant Elizabeth pulled my arm to leave. The nurse who accompanied us said that Maurice wouldn't eat nor drink and he goes berserk at the sight of a human. The nurse mentioned something like Systemic Schizophrenia, a case where the patient tries his best to live in the past and she added that constant failure to go back in time would force him to take the last recourse which is - suicide.
My whole body was trembling and I felt dizzy as we went out of the building. Elizabeth, with her usual sweet smile, goaded me to ignore the negative and think only of the positive, pointing to her bulging tummy. I tried hard to concentrate on her words because I knew for a fact that she was right. So, I went back to the office to continue with this story which may eventually win me an award in essay writing. It was really simple now, all I have to do is input the outline in one sentence and select a composition at my pleasure.
Before I forget, may I declare my undying loyalty to the friendship of the Three Eggs of Enid. Like Eddie, I will provide a grand burial for Maurice, probably within this week, and I also promise to bury him beside our good friend Eddie. But the mourning wouldn’t be the same for how will I mourn, alone? For sure, Elizabeth would console me again as she always does, but grief is not her forte and she wanted me to do the same.
Next week will probably be the day that only I, with Elizabeth and our baby in her womb beside me, will be left alone to savor the fame and glory of being a good writer. Of course, I will share the bounty with Elizabeth for without my Elizabeth, I wouldn’t have saved the schematic diagram and have the PWM for myself. Without her cunning, the writing machine would still be in the hands of the greedy Maurice and I would just remain an obscure editor of an obscure newspaper in an obscure town.