Carl worked two jobs. He’d rather not talk about either one of them to you. He wanted you to think of him as a writer and nothing else.
That’s what the guy at the deli would say about Carl, “He’s writing a book!”
That’s what the mailman would say about Carl, “Yeah, he’s writing a novel.”
That’s not important. Don’t ask Carl either; he gets very suspicious when you pry into his personal affairs. He has the habit of looking over his shoulder a lot. He’s being followed. The rooms are bugged and his million-dollar idea will be plucked out from under him when he’s not paying any attention. His grandfather invented the spatula, but it was stolen from him.
Carl has found that most people are also writing a book. Or they would like to write a book. Or they know someone that has written a book. Many of them want things from Carl; it drove him bananas. They’d readily tell Carl their ideas and those ideas were slop. Junk. Trash.
“My ideas are golden,” he tells Lulu the bird. His novel will radiate magic light, he explains to the postman. “I must protect my idea at all costs,” he tells the Spanish kid who slices his bologna.
Ask him further about the novel and he will talk very crossly to you, walking away in a red-faced fury.
A bit about Carl: He spends his evenings writing and rewriting his manuscript on an old Underwood typewriter in his dining room, listening to records from members of the now defunct Rat Pack. He has a tropical bird named Lulu. He lives alone. He is fifty three. He eats most of his meals out of a can but he doesn’t mind. His fingers hurt because he never learned how to type. He has never been to a single writing class. He liked it that way.
This year, he took two weeks off of work: both jobs, sat around the house, going over and over and over his manuscript. He told Lulu, “This time, I’ll really finish it. Really send it out.”
Lulu said, “Ooooooh Ooooohhhhh.”
Carl flipped over the Dean Martin Vinyl, placed the needle back down. “You’re Nobody Til Somebody Loves You” filled his mother’s house, but she was dead. The place smelled like Chef Boyardee.
The keys on the typewriter went clank clank clank and Carl looked nervously at the calendar from the Chinese restaurant down the street. He had until Tuesday to finish the necessary typing. Then, it was back to real life.
It started to rain. There was a flash of lightning. Rumbles of thunder. The record player slowed down as the lights flickered and then died completely. Carl lit a halo of candles around the typewriter and continued to type.
By dawn, his work was finished. He stood up and said, “Ahhh ha!”
Lulu said nothing.
Carl was prepared. He had a list of publishing houses that he was very interested in. He photocopied the manuscript at Office Town, shipped the box off. Waited.
Then he waited.
Then he waited.
Christmas came. The snow fell. He went to Jade Temple Garden and got a new calendar for the new year. A Chinese Fu Dog in gold foil. Wanton soup, fried rice. He bought the newspaper, not to read, just to line Lulu’s cage. He went for a walk over to the deli and told the Spanish kid in the hairnet, “Well, Pablo, I sent it off.”
“Sent what off?”
“None of your goddamn business.”
Steve, the mailman came up the walk. Carl always kept a close eye on the window those days. As soon as the mail truck pulled up, he flung open the door and shouted, “Anything?”
“This may be something?” Steve said, shaking a manila envelope. “It’s from New York City.”
Carl bounded down the steps, snatched the envelope away. Ran back into his house.
The crocuses were out. The lilies were just popping up in the gardens. It was nearly Easter. Steve put the rest of the mail in the box, went off to the next house, whistling a familiar song to all, that none could place.
The manila envelope contained a single sheet of paper.
It said this:
Dear Mr. _____,
Thanks for your interest in ______ House Publishing. Generally, as a rule, I don’t send out a personalized rejection letter because there is no time for that kind of thing. I am taking the time today to send you this note in hopes that it finds some resolution in the idea of you and ______ House Publishing working together in any capacity.
First of all, your manuscript is unworkable. It is not something that we would like to represent. Frankly, the subject matter was very distasteful and ill. The best part about your manuscript, by far, were your typos. Wonderful typos. We loved that part. Otherwise, no. No. No.
Please, stop your daily phone calls to ______ House Publishing. Halt all correspondence. We do not appreciate being sent Holiday cards, flowers, cakes, pastries, muffins, singing telegrams. We do not accept gifts of any kind from anyone. The autographed head shots that you sent us were given to local police regarding a few strange incidents involving some of our staff and someone matching your description.
You sir, are a sick individual. Get some help.
There is no need or desire for any future communication between ourselves and you. Consider this letter, a legal warning.
A copy has been forwarded to our lawyer, as well.
________ _________, esq.
Carl sat down at the kitchen table, broke out his list of publishers. He took a red marker and crossed _______ House Publishing off his list, “Their loss,” he sung.
Then he spun around to face his bird. “Well, Lulu, got some good feedback on my manuscript. Won’t be long now til me and you are living the good life in some posh mansion.”
Lulu squirmed around in the cage.
Carl took out the manuscript, plopped it down on the table. He took a new sheet of paper out of the pile, stuck that in the typewriter.
He began to painstakingly make every single word in his entire redraft a typo.
“Gotta give these publishers what they want. They want typos. I’ll give them typos.”
On the fourth of July, there was no mail. But Steve came by in his personal vehicle and he knocked on Carl’s door.
Carl answered in his bathrobe. He’d grown a big beard. he looked disoriented.
“This showed up last night at the post office,” he said.
Carl opened the letter. It said this:
Dear Mr. Carlos _____,
We would like to accept your novel The _____ _________ as a title to be carried by ______ _____ _____. Please contact us here at our offices at your earliest convenience at this number ___ ___ ____. Thank you for considering ______ _____ _____. We have never received a manuscript with such care and foresight placed into the text.
Every single word a typo! Brilliant!
We are prepared to offer you a three book deal, and hope earnestly that you accept it.
“What does it say?” Steve the postman asked.
“They love my book,” Carl said, shrugging. “They want it.”
Carl clicked his tongue, tsk tsk tsk.
“You don’t seem excited,” Steve said.
“I’d be a fool to accept the first offer,” Carl said. “there will be many more. There’s never been a book like this before.”
‘What’s it about?”
“I’m gonna have to ask you to leave now, Steve,” Carl said with hate in his eyes.
As Steve drove away, hurt, Carl walked back inside the house and continued to work on his next masterpiece.
Not only was every single word a typo, but it was over 400 pages long, without a single space between any of the words.
“We’ll be rich, Lulu,” Carl said, placing the needle back down on Sammy Davis Jr. “Soon your cage will be made of solid gold, and you’ll be a happier bird.”
Bud Smith is the author of Tollbooth, a novel. Check it out on Amazon.