Insert punchline here: _____________________________
Seriously, though, I got the crazy idea in my head that the novel that won me a Pennsylvania Council of the Arts Grant in Literature, and for which I got some of these amazing rejection letters back in the day, might be worth dusting off and either shopping around or self-publishing. Why not? The only expense will be time and effort, right? I’ve got plenty of both, right?
So I set sail for the island of misfit/unfinished manuscripts, otherwise known as my external hard drive, and there it was: Tales from the Back of the Bus. As with most things I keep in cold storage, I found it chopped up neatly into multiple…um….files. Files, yeah, that’s it.
I opened the first file and dug in.
Now, one of the weird things about my process is that I usually start with a title [not odd in and of itself] and a font [that’s probably where it gets a little weird–not luring stray cats into a dark alley weird, but oh, my isn’t he an eccentric writer weird]. Right off the bat, I’m struck by the tastelessness of the font I picked all those years ago: Mistral, or rather:
I suppose the idea was [back then] the main character would have been typing his manuscript on a manual or electric typewriter. So, any notes or corrections would be hand-written, so Mistral. I get it. But yikes.
My first forays into graphic design, because I’m old and those were the computer-less laser-printer-less dark ages, required things like 30% gray Zip-a-Tone and Letraset dry transfer rub-on letters. So really, I’m lucky the chapter heads weren’t in Microgramma Bold Extended and bouncing all over the place, like some sort of Space: 1999 ransom note.
Anyway, that starts a whole thing. An OCD anal-retentive sort of thing. I have to find typewriter fonts that look like actual typewriter type, smudges and blips and all, but is still legible and is fairly complete. I am a font geek after all, and I know what they should look like because I worked my way up the typewriter evolution chart from a monstrous Remington manual, through an electric Smith-Corona with injector ribbons, to an IBM Selectric. I’ve seen things, man. I’ve seen things.
Once I have the fonts downloaded and installed, THEN I have to go through and change all the offending occurrences of Mistral to the new font–that’s chapter numbers and names, section numbers, all that. And in the process of doing that, just so my process will be properly lubricated, I come across this:
9: beauty and the beast
Reality came crashing down.
The first is, of course, the chapter number and name. Then comes the .CJ which is what was known as a “dot code,” boys and girls. Say it with me. “Dot Code.”
Once upon a time, before the invention of personal computers, the GUI interface, and Microsoft Word, if you had access to a computer, it was something like a big honking VAX 11, which is what we had at the University of Scranton in 1980 when I started writing this puppy in the basement of St. Thomas Hall. In order to format paragraphs, you embedded a dot code before the text you were trying to format. In this case, .cj for center justified, then the section header -I-, then .fj for fulll justified. Then when you printed your document, the dot codes would [hopefully] disappear, and the VAX 111 would center the section head, then full justify all the text that followed until it hit a different dot code. Same process for bold, underline, and italic.
Nowadays, you just click a button on a toolbar or enter a Ctrl-B keyboard shortcut, but in 1979 [probably sitting in a cinderblock basement room without any windows and typing on a console that looked like something out of an Irwin Allen masterpiece like Time Tunnel or Land of the Giants, YOU MANUALLY TYPED THEM INTO YOUR MANUSCRIPT!! IF YOU DID’T DO IT RIGHT, YOUR WHOLE MANUSCRIPT WOULD BE UNDERLINED OR ITALICIZED UNTIL YOU FOUND THE MISCREANT DOT CODE AND PUT IT OUT OF ITS MISERY.
Sorry, I didn’t mean to shout, but you kids today have no idea how easy you have with computers in your pocket that are more powerful than those that used to fill entire warehouses back when I was a kid. Your stupid Fat-bit™ sports watch is more powerful than the computers that took us to the moon, Alice, the fricking moon. We had to carry ours back and forth to school UP hill and down through the snow. BOTH WAYS.
Wait, that’s not it.
When you printed your manuscript out as a draft, you sent it to the printer in the computer room, and it showed up in your ACTUAL WOODEN MAILBOX when some shlub work-study shlub…um…student put it there hours or days later. It came on green stripey paper that was 11 x 14 7/8 inches and had sprocket holes down each side so it could go through the dot matrix printer. It looked something like this:
But instead of whatever this is, it would be your story told in row after row of matrixes of dots that were so delightful to read for hours while editing with a pen and coffee in the student union.
When you had something to print that you had to actually hand in, you could go to one of the individual printers in the computer room and tell it to print your epic on form feed 8.5 x 11″ white paper that you then had to tear the sprocket holes from in long strips, then tear the individual pages apart.
The type, because it was not the simple matrix of dots seen at the left the gigantic E, would be SO much easier on the eyes like this one below center. Isn’t that nice? Isn’t that pleasant to read? Hm? Not at all like having those 8-pins of the dot matrix print head jammed into your eyes over and over and over…
Anyway, you bastards can just type on your googly phones, phablets, and whatnot. Drop a blog without wiping, and get on with your avocado toast eating ways. Goody for you. Try an Oxford comma once in a while you lazy, over-privileged sonsabitches! Or a semi-colon. Or an em-dash. Do you even em-dash, bro? DO YOU?
What was the point of this? Oh, yeah. Old. I’m old now. Huzzah!