There I was, sitting in the cab of a freight engine at the EJE railroad yard in Waukegan, Illinois, a year out of high school when I got a draft card. Afraid of dying in the mud, I joined the United States Air Force.

OK, that’s my belated Veterans Day column. Save, press send. Wait a minute, I need more words.

The Air Force people decided, after eight weeks in basic training, that I wasn’t suitable for flight training or cook school, so they sent me to college in Louisiana to learn to type. That’s when everything changed.

I did learn to type, and smoke, drink, and then became a grownup.

So this is my belated Veterans Day column about how I learned to type and set out on the road to become a writer. The rest is in script form.

Scene 1: I and 10 other young airmen went to a room on campus each day to begin typing lessons. We made our way down the hall through a gauntlet of sorority girls who saluted us. True story.

Scene 2: We met our teacher, a stout, middle-aged woman named Miss LaPointe, who wore thick glasses and a hairnet of the wrong color. She started with a description of the parts of the typewriter.

We began on big, clunky machines that were probably invented by Christopher Latham Sholes. I looked up some pictures; I think they were 1940 Royal KMMs? You can go Google it.

By the time we were all typing a hundred words a minute, an intelligence officer from Barksdale Air Force Base came in and began our instruction in military correspondence, starting with letter headings.

By Order of. By Command of. And so forth.

Scene 3: Then we all broke up with the girls who thought we were dashing, romantic pilots and wanted to marry them, and the Air Force sent us to Japan to fight the Korean war with typewriters.

It was in a windowless block house in Tachikawa, Japan, that Freddie Blackman, Nick Lorre and I were given brand new silver-gray Remington typewriters that made us feel like we were part of the future.

So after many a hard day of typing, we drank, smoked and lied to Japanese girls who thought we might want to marry them and take them back to the states. Stop, press send. No, wait a minute. There’s more.

Scene 4: Eventually the Korean War fizzled to an end, and Freddie, Nick and I were flown back to Hamilton Air Force Base in San Francisco, California, where we went to work typing documents in a huge blockhouse overlooking the bay and Alcatraz.

Scene 5: Following my discharge and armed with a degree in typing, I decided to become a Broadway actor. I remember my first audition.

“Do you have any special talents?”

“I type.”

“Next.”

Scene 6: The struggle to stardom began. So armed with my typing degree, I took night jobs typing in big hotels that provided sleek new IBM Selectric typewriters that would have wrinkled Miss LaPointe’s hairnet. Stop, save, hit send. Hold on, hold on.

Scene 7: I got my first leading role, met a girl on the escalator in Bloomingdale’s, married her, stopped typing and became a full-time actor.

Stop. Save. No, wait, wait.

Scene 8: After years and years of New York and Hollywood and some success, Mary Ellen White, an agent I shared with the 10-year-old Michael Jackson, got tired of my sitting around her office and gave me a desk with a very modern electric beauty and tons of paper and said, “Start writing down those stories you keep telling me.”

So I did. I even read some of them to Michael, as he sat on my lap and shared his large Pepsi with me. Very true story.

Speed ahead film clips:

Wrote film and television scripts. Some sold, most did not.

Submitted a piece to Los Angeles Times. They hired me as a full-time freelance columnist.

Grew bored with L.A. and moved to Maine with escalator girl.

Editor Bob Moorehead at the Morning Sentinel hired me part-time, which soon became full-time.

Thanksgiving 2019: Snowing.

Save. Select all. Press SEND.

 

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer. 

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