Monday, September 13, 2010

The Underwood Effect || A Modern Parable about Old Technology ...

by David Hunter

“...Technology is a crutch. Dropping oneself back into a more primitive abyss is healthier for the mind ...”

 Me and Jeff were sitting around one night working on our movie script when he suddenly stopped typing and looked at me rather quizzically.

“Tonight I shall forego technology” he announced. He got up and walked out of the room. Minutes later he returned with a large object in his arms.

“What the hell is that?” I asked.

“This,” he grunted, because the thing was a monstrosity, “Is a No. 2 Underwood. Year of manufacture: 1955.”

“And what do you propose to do with that thing?”

“I am attempting to channel the spirit of writers past; Kerouac, Steinbeck, Hemingway. Can’t you feel it? The literary ghosts abound tonight,” he tapped a few of the keys and they made dull thudding noises that echoed off the walls. “Technology is a crutch. Dropping oneself back into a more primitive abyss is healthier for the mind.”

‘Hey man, whatever floats your boat” I said.

I went back to my Microsoft Word document hoping I could regain the flow I had lost. I was soon immersed in act two of our script, ‘The Last Death of Juan Diego’ when I noticed that Jeff hadn’t written anything yet. He was sitting at his No. 2 Underwood, staring at it.

“Problem, Jeff?”

He scratched his head for a while before replying.

“I think this thing needs ribbon. I’ll be right back …” he dashed off up the stairs. I could hear him making his way up to his parent’s attic. He was back not long afterward with some spools of ribbon that I assumed were for the Underwood.
I tried to ignore all the fussing and cursing Jeff was doing getting that ribbon in, and tried to focus on the script.

VO: Juan was dead. He had died a long time ago, but still walked the Earth; his eternal damnation for the murder of his friend Sanchez …


It had been an accident, or so he told himself. They both had been in love with the same woman, Maria Pacifica Ramirez ….

“Come on you whore…”

I looked up from my script, and saw Jeff trying valiantly to install the typewriter ribbon without causing damage to the machine. His face was the color of plums.

“Ah! There we go!” he said, smiling. The shift from complete anger to happiness was comical.

“Will you actually be writing now?” I said.

“Of course … I was just putting in some fresh ribbon”


“Relatively fresh.” He said. He sat down in front of the Underwood again. He started hunting around for some paper to feed into the thing.

“Ahem,” I grunted. I pointed over to the shelf, where sat a sheaf of photocopy paper.

I turned my attention to the script again:

Act Two, Scene One:

Juan Diego is walking through the desert somewhere in the American Southwest. He lost his horse in a shoot-out with the Federales and now is on the run. Up ahead, almost to the horizon, he sees a band of men on horseback, headed straight for him. He pushes his Serape aside, and un-holsters his pistol …




For a moment I was confused by the sound, but it was the damn typewriter. It sounded like someone was getting punched in the face because it was echoing through Jeff’s wooden desk.


“SHIT!” he yelled.

I sighed, “What now?”

“Typo. We got any … what’s it called …?”

I told him it was called ‘white-out’ and that it was in the desk drawer. He rooted through the drawer for a few moments before he found it in the back. He was all happy again.

“Are you feeling the Kerouac vibes yet?” I said.

He ignored me, except to say “Oh ye of little faith”

I looked at my Word Doc, and felt the flow had dissolved. I went outside on the front porch to have a beer and take in the night air. Kerouac? Was he kidding? How anyone could write on one of those contraptions was beyond me. I soon forgot about Jeff and his nostalgic leanings, and looked up at the stars. Orion’s Belt was visible … so was Arcturus, the Great Bear …


That damn Underwood again.


I swear, they should melt every last one of those things down and turn them into Coke cans or something ….

Suddenly the typing stopped again. It remained quiet for some time, until I got curious and decided to wander back in.

Jeff was still seated at the Underwood, staring. When I got closer, I saw that he had one finger trapped between the K and L keys. He had notoriously fat fingers, so I assumed he couldn’t get them out.

“Can you see if there’s any butter in the refrigerator? “ He said sheepishly.

After searching the fridge and finding no trace of butter or margarine, I returned solemnly to Jeff with a bottle of Ketchup. He took one look at the bottle and sighed.

I managed to apply said Catsup between the keys and his fingers with a cotton swab, and all the while Jeff is moaning that the Underwood was being ruined, that Hemingway never got his fingers caught in his typewriter, and that he was a worthless hack who would never get published and didn’t deserve to be called a writer. I told him to hold still or I’d leave him there stuck to the Underwood until all that was left was his skeletal remains.

“There, try it now” I said, looking at the keys awash in ketchup. He tried tugging his finger gently, but nothing happened; Still stuck.

“You have to put some effort into it, man” I said. I grabbed his wrist and yanked. Jeff produced a sound similar to a walrus giving birth.

Now I was angry. I picked up the damned typewriter.

“What are you doing?” Jeff asked nervously.

“Hold still”

I yanked back on the thing and it unexpectedly let go, causing me to careen backwards where I promptly and unintentionally sent the No. 2 Underwood sailing through the window and, to my surprise, through the windshield of his father’s Buick Century. The crash of glass echoed up and down the quiet suburban street; lights flicked on, people came out to stand at their front doors. It was like a scene from that old twilight Zone episode ‘The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.’

We stood at the window frame and looked down. There, in the front seat of the Buick sat Jeff’s beloved Underwood. It was no worse for wear. I had hoped it would be destroyed beyond repair. No such luck.

Ten minutes later Jeff had retrieved the infernal machine and placed it back in the attic, where it belonged. He came back into the room quietly, and opened up his laptop. His eyes dilated.

“What happened to the ‘primitive abyss’?” I asked.

He never answered me. He was busy checking his e-mail.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Avoid Clichés Like the Plague!

 "Let's face it, with all due respect, Clichés suck ..."

As a writer in pursuit of something fresh and exciting I am often dismayed by the use of worn out aphorisms and phrases.   One of the most odious of the last decade has been the phrase ‘At the end of the day’ which is repeated by every radio talk show caller and host ad nauseam (another cliché!) 
Doing a little research (and I stress ‘little’) I noticed that there are hundreds of them, possibly thousands, clogging up the English language like locusts.  How do you avoid clichés when everyone in the vicinity uses them on a daily basis?  As a writer the temptation to use them is big because a lot of them convey simple ideas that people can understand.   But really, most of these should be avoided in any kind of serious prose writing.   Here then is a list of the most annoying ones.  I only added the first few hundred because I was going ballistic looking at them all. 
CLICHES TO AVOID AT ALL COSTS || Compiled by David Hunter
all walks of life
at all times
leave no stone unturned
lock, stock, and barrel
calm before the storm
long arm of the law
never a dull moment
cry over spilled milk
patience of Job
paying the piper
give the devil his due
selling like hot cakes
hook, line, and sinker
stick out like a sore thumb
winds of change
in the same boat
Awful, aren’t they? Here are some more. These ones are usually used to start off a sentence and are particularly irksome … 

 To tell the honest truth
As a matter of fact

Let's face it

The reason being

 You know

I personally

With all due respect

At the end of the day

Some of them are unavoidable, right? I mean, there are only so many ways to start off a sentence.  But in prose writing I think it’s still possible to be fresh and original.  Here’s some more: 

It's not rocket science.
It's a paradigm shift.

win-win situation
bottom line
thinking outside the box
wealth of experience
low hanging fruit
in a nutshell
put all the eggs in one basket
giving 100%
strike while the iron is hot
no brainer
turn-key solution
beat a dead horse
everything from soup to nuts
leaps and bounds

Ugh.  I’m feeling my stomach turn.  But I suppose we have to go on …

value added
be at peace with yourself (shut-up)

Flies in the face

get his dander up
at the tip of my tongue
fine as frog hair
to make a long story short
A penny saved is a penny earned
walk like a cowboy
honest Injun
line up like tin soldiers
make it plain and clear
Above and beyond the call of duty
dog tired
The more things change, the more they stay the same
take a walk on the wild side
Better late than never!
batten down the hatches
can't be counted on in the clutch
age gracefully

I must confess to using some of these, but mostly in jest.  If I were to use these phrases in my daily life I’d have no friends left …

Cover your ass
you reap what you sow
road hog
once in a blue moon
times are changing
gum up the works
Angel of Death
like a bat out of hell
Happier than a pig in shit.
get a move on
an eye for an eye
good, bad or indifferent
there's no free lunch
between you and me and bedpost
thick as thieves
I would if I could.
vested interest
wolf in sheep's clothing
You have no Idea how painful this is for me!  But, I’ll be a good writer and soldier on …

Don't eat the yellow snow
far be it from me
lo and behold
on the Fritz
rip me off
eat your heart out
I don't know how to break this to you but....
by leaps and bounds
Women, can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em
running around like a chicken with it's head cut off
I'll knock you from here to next Wednesday
As wise as an owl
a feather in his cap
Every day of the week and twice on Sundays
I’d like to insert something witty and urbane here, but I’ve lost my appetite …

talk 'till your blue in the face
in his element
all work and no play
last resort
the rocky road to success
your mission in life
had eyes that light up a room
bury the hatchet
a fish out of water
busy as a one legged man at an ass kicking contest
bottoms up
came the dawn
see it through
blind leading the blind
a marriage made in heaven
you're not just whistling Dixie!
year in and year out
the eternal triangle
sucking hind teat
dictates of conscience
It ain't broke.  Don't fix it.
Lets "Chew the fat." being nibbled to death by ducks
Like a bull in a china shop
all's well that ends well
in the lap of luxury

So you see, clichés are everywhere! We can’t avoid them completely in everyday conversations, but we can certainly avoid them in our writing.  Clichés are only weak, lazy language.  We can do better.  And please, if you catch me using a horrid cliché, just bust me in the chops!
(As a postscript, I will leave you with a few more horrendous clichés …)
bust in the chops
from the mouths of babes
at the crack of dawn
beauty is only skin deep
charity begins at home
chicken hearted
give a damn
snug as a bug in a rug
every inch a king
slim picking
to hell and back
labor of love
cut to the quick
 not a ghost of a chance
lay on, Macduff
half-baked idea
rise and shine
it's the best/greatest thing since sliced bread
true blue
~ David Hunter, Over and Out

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