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A Conversation with a Forgotten Office Supply Store Owner

Gaffey St. looks as though it has been forgotten by the city. It is where all the forgotten people walk and talk and live. Yesterday I parked next to a coral one story house, with blinds that were bent and patches of grass that were brown. Many lawns have these patches starving for water. Succulents have become increasingly popular amongst the inhabitants of Southern California.

I walked, lugging my mint green typewriter case. It was once considered portable. As my arm weakened and my loosening grip forced me to carry it like an infant rather than a briefcase, I wondered if people were stronger in the 1950s.   I needed a tutorial on this simple yet mysterious machine. I was told to go to this discount office supply store. Peering through the windows, it looked cluttered. It reminded me of the open living rooms I saw on my sultry night walks to the papaya lady in Suphan Buri. It was an organized chaos.

Aisles of different colors and kinds of paints. And then aisles of material to spread the paint on. And in the front, near the desk of the typewriter guru, computers and typewriters and parts of each were stacked up to the waist height. It was intriguing that the art materials had remained untouched. Completely organized. Nothing missing from the shelves. It made me wonder if they were meant to distract as other things happened.

One of those high pitch buzzers dinged, signifying my presence. The typewriter guru looked passed the man he was talking to, toward the mint green, metal infant in my arms.

“A Hermes 3000.”

At first I did not realize he was speaking to me. He had a lazy eye and thick glasses on hiding his blue eyes.  But when he repeated, I understood.

“That’s a Hermes 3000 you got there.”

“yep.”

“I bet you’re wondering how I knew that.”

“I’m sure you knew because of the ca…”

“I’m pretty good with typewriters.”

He interrupted and I allowed it to happen because I could tell he was enthused. Feeling needed was exciting and I needed him. He made another prediction. His short stature standing up straight. Time had caused a softness that those younger don’t understand.  I don’t anyway.

“I bet you are here for ribbon.”

“Yep.”

At that point I thought I was. Like I said, Hermes was a mysterious creature.

“Also the margins are all wonky.”

“Ok well lets take a look.”

I walked passed the man, who had understood that his talking time had dwindled to zero as something more interesting walked through the door. I set the baby on his desk and took the chipped, mint green case away from the machine.

“Oh well it’s missing a piece. And the lever to change the margins is right here. And the ribbon is tight. That’s your problem.”

“oh.”

“There it should do better now.”

As though by magic, the ribbon became loose, and the j’s he was typing became black rather than translucent.

“Thank you!”

Pointing at the case, he reassembled the pieces I did not know could be dissembled and covered it back up.

“Somebody really beat that thing up.”

“Oh, I got it from some guy in Torrance. Are you a writer?”

“No but people tell me I should write.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah, but I am kind of embarrassed about some of the things that happened to me.”

“I don’t think embarrassed has much to do with it.”

As I said this I realized I had missed his subtle hint. He took it as an invitation to elaborate.

“I don’t really want people to know what happened to me. My parents were really good for many years, but then they started doing bad things. It’s funny watching the people who taught you not to do certain things, do those exact things. Did you have a good childhood?”

“Yeah, I would say that I am pretty blessed. It is a funny moment when you realize that your parents are just people too.”

“Yeah, but I’m glad that I didn’t allow them to make me hard. I’m still kind.   Sometimes I get taken advantage of. But, I remind myself that I am being the best person I can be. It’s the people who are taking advantage who are not being all they can be.”

“I get taken advantage of as well. People tell me that I am to nice.”

“So you’re gonna use this Hermes to write? What are some of your published books?”

“Oh, I’m not published yet. Right now I write about my own life and anybody else who will let me.”

With this the corners of my eyes wrinkled with a proud grin covering my face. He thought I was published.

“I’m sure you will be soon. You look like a smart lady. You know how I started this place?”

“How?”

I found myself wishing everybody were this easy with their stories. I was impressed with his honesty.

“Well I was working at Palos Verdes Bowl. You know the one up on Crenshaw? I worked as a technician, and I specialized in typewriters. You’d be surprised how many typewriters were used at a bowling alley. Stan was a regular. I don’t even know his last name. One day Stan asked me

‘Are you a better mechanic than your boss?’

Yes, I’ve been working with typewriters since I was 14.

‘Well then why are you working for him?’

Well I’ve gotten used to eating.

I was kind of a smart ass back then. And then he left. That was that. A few weeks later Stan came back.

‘Come with me.”

He told me, so I went. He brought me here to this vacant store front.

‘This is for you.’

I can’t afford rent, I told him.

‘It’s ok. The rent is covered. Start your own store and stop working for your mediocre boss.’

And so the store was mine just like that.”

The winey buzzer went off as a young man entered the store. The typewriter guru barely looked at him. He was the one with wrinkled eyes from a proud smile now.

“God bless Stan.”

I said this very excitedly, surprising myself at the religious path I had chosen as a response.

“Thank you so much for all the help. I’m sure I will be back soon.”

“Yes, please come back anytime.”

I turned around with my healthy mint green infant and walked out the door, triggering the winey ringer one last time. As I walked back to the coral house with dying grass, I felt lucky to have a typewriter guru so close to me. Who is kind. Who wants to help.

I drove back to the forgotten street, rethinking its forgotten status.

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